Parental Wellbeing after Separation: Evidence from German Panel Data

Michaela Kreyenfeld, Hertie School of Governance, Berlin
Katja Köppen, University of Rostock
Heike Trappe, University of Rostock

Mothers and fathers are exposed to different “realities” after separation. Mothers are usually found to be economically disadvantaged compared to separated fathers and suffer from a higher time pressure while juggling parental responsibilities and employment. These factors are usually assumed to lower mothers’ life satisfaction. There exist important factors that might negatively affect fathers’ wellbeing as well. Since children commonly reside with their mothers after separation, fathers may suffer from the reduced opportunities for contact with their children.

This paper examines how these gendered “realities” of separated parenthood influence life satisfaction after separation. We contribute to the literature in the following ways: Firstly, we focus on the life satisfaction of parents after separation. While a body of literature has amassed that explores how divorce affects wellbeing, much less research exists that more explicitly examines the wellbeing of separated and divorced parents. Secondly, our study includes parents who divorced as well as those who separated, but were never married. Including never married parents enables us to investigate whether unmarried parents are at a particular disadvantage after union dissolution and how this pattern differs by gender. Thirdly, we make use of novel indicators of the conditions surrounding separation, such as frequency of contact or who initiated the separation.

Data for this investigation comes from the German Family Panel (pairfam). We use eight years of panel data and explore the evolution of life satisfaction by gender and time since partnership dissolution. An important finding from our study is that there are no significant gender differences in general life satisfaction among separated parents. However, fathers’ trajectories of life satisfaction are very diverse. They are strongly affected by the partnership and employment experience after separation.

Presented in Session 37: Union Dissolution