National Post

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Friday, April 30, 1999

More children impoverished by divorce than job loss: study
Remarriage offers relief

Elena Cherney
National Post

A divorce is more likely than a job loss to plunge a family into poverty, according to a study released yesterday by Statistics Canada.

The study, the first of its kind to track the incomes of 56,000 people over a two-year period, also found that remarriage is more likely than a new job to improve a family's financial situation.

Children whose parents separate face a 67.5% chance of falling below the low-income cut-off line, it found. Children whose parents' earnings were reduced by job loss or a reduction in the number of hours worked face an 8% chance of falling into poverty.

But only 3.2% of children in the study faced the separation of their parents, while one-third saw a parent's income decline.

"Not many kids experience it, but for those who do, it is very profound," said Robert Glossop, the executive director of programs at the Vanier Institute of the Family in Ottawa, of the effect of a family breakup on the purse.

Among those children living below the low-income cut-off line when the study began in 1993, the marriage of a parent virtually guaranteed an exit from poverty. In 99% of such cases, the income of the new family rose above the low-income cut-off, which in 1993, was $21,400 for a family of four.

Few families with average or high incomes fell below the low-income cut-off after a marital breakdown. Almost no families with incomes of more than $32,100 found themselves losing enough ground to be called poor.

By following the same 56,000 people for two years, the study explains in a way no previous study has attempted to do why some children and not others fall below the low-income cut-off, and how poor parents restore financial security to their children.

"In the past, we've known how many people are poor in a given year, and how things change over time for the whole population," said Ross Finnie, a professor at the School of Policy Studies at Queen's University. "But we have not known how things change for the individuals."

The new study portrays poverty as a fairly fluid state for children, Prof. Finnie said. Among children in two-parent families, 37.5% left the low-income group during the two years of the study, and among children with single parents, 27% rose above the low-income cut-off.

He said the findings show that the dramatic effect of divorce on children's economic well-being could be alleviated by a policy of short-term income replacement for newly single parents -- almost always mothers -- while they get back on their feet.

Awarding child custody to both parents, or to fathers, would help reduce the number of children living in poverty because of divorce, said Jack Wayne, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto.

Income drops off for mothers who divorce, while fathers enjoy a slight gain in income, said Prof. Wayne. "That we have given custody as a kind of bias to the mother means, all things being equal, that children suffer because they're being substantially parented by the lower-income parent."

A change in federal child-support legislation in 1997 tried to correct imbalances between parents' incomes by tying child-support payments to income. The legislation came under the media spotlight this week when the Supreme Court heard the case of a Toronto multi-millionaire who does not want to pay the $10,000 a month that he is required under the new guidelines to pay in child support. The court reserved judgment on the case.

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  • Statistics Canada
    Canada's statistical center. All the information worth knowing about Canada.

  • Low income among children
    According to the report, children of divorced families have a better chance of living in poverty.

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