May 19, 2009 at 9:35 am gabrielrossman
One of the things that’s been making the rounds is the story of the NY Times financial writer who is losing his house (and of course, writing a book about it which was just excerpted as an article in the NY Times magazine). The interesting thing is that what at first looks like a case study in the culture of debt (what idiot/shyster gave him a mortgage?) is really all about divorce.
Basically what happened is this guy and his new wife (until that point a housewife) divorced their respective spouses and married each other. His ex got roughly 2/3 of his (fairly lavish) income as alimony and child support. His new wife had been out of the labor market so long that she was only minimally employable, especially because she was mostly interested in taking a prestigious and intrinsically rewarding knowledge worker type job of the type that a) people tend to self-subsidize and b) she was no longer competitive for. Despite a massive income shock they were both accustomed to their old bourgeois lifestyles and ended up in the red by over $1000 /month.
I find this story to be interesting in part because we’ve suspected since Moynihan (and known for an absolute fact since McLanahan and Sandefur) that many of the problems of the lower class are related to the breakdown of the bourgeois family (especially the increasing number of households with only one adult), but this story illustrates how it’s no picnic for upper middle class professionals types either. I should also note that much of the commentary is flat wrong. For instance if you read the comment thread
on this post, most of it is misogyny directed at both women in this story (i.e., the ex is bleeding this guy dry and the second wife had no right to have remained a housewife in her first marriage as soon as her kids were in kindergarten) to the effect that marriage is biased against men. In fact all the research shows that men benefit more from marriage than women, mostly because we start acting responsibly after we get married. After getting married men have more stable employment histories and are much less likely to use cocaine or abuse alcohol. As far as can be determined (through longitudinal studies) the association is mostly causal.
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