Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Decomposing Gender Gap in Post-divorce Food Security: The Role of Assets and Child Placement

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 1:30 PM
Orchid B (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Fei Men, University of Wisconsin - Madison
Food insecurity affects 15 percent of the American households today. Not surprisingly, single-mother households are especially vulnerable, with more than one-third of them being food insecure in 2013. In contrast, less than a quarter of the single-father households experienced the same hardship (Coleman-Jensen, Gregory, & Singh, 2014). While plenty has been studied regarding the post-divorce gender inequality in income and wealth (Gadalla, 2008), there is remarkably little research directed to the aspect of material wellbeing following marital disruptions. Are mothers more likely to be food insecure than fathers shortly after marital dissolution? Does working while married or having no child custody after divorce matter to one’s post-divorce food security? These are questions relevant to family policy making that previous literature has largely overlooked and this paper is determined to answer.

To address the questions above, I use a nationally representative sample drawn from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). The last four panels of the survey covering the years from 1996 to 2012 are pooled to gain enough statistical power. Each panel consists of multiple waves of interview. In order to be sampled, individuals must be married living with minor children at wave 1 and be either legally separated or divorced by the wave of food security measurement. By that criteria, 1,052 fathers and 1,332 mothers are left for the analysis, of which 15 percent of the fathers and 20 percent of the mothers are food insecure after marital dissolution. Weighted multivariate logistic regression are performed on the food security status of this pooled sample. Pre-separation human capital and assets from wave one as well as post-separation child placement from the wave of food security measurement are included as covariates of interest.

Preliminary analyses reveal that mothers are 35 percent more likely to be food insecure than their male counterparts. Around one quarter of this gender disparity is attributable to the pre-dissolution human capital and household assets and post-dissolution child placement combined. Holding other characteristics constant, the odds of being food insecure for individuals with a bachelor’s degree are half of the odds of their high school graduated counterparts. Bearing a serious disability, however, can more than quadruplicate the same risk for mothers and double it for fathers. Food insecurity risk is generally higher when more and older children are present in one’s home. Yet parents – especially mothers - with one child at home after dissolution are less likely to be food insecure than those with no child at all, indicating the possible effects from unobserved characteristics among the latter.  

This study shows the magnitude of food security gap between recently divorced parents and the factors related to the overall risk of food insecurity. There are suggestive evidences that building human capital and assets before and during marriage may weather both parents against potential food hardship in case marriage dissolves. Special attention should be given to mothers with serious disabilities who may face greater nutritional challenge than their male counterparts with similar conditions.