Have the financial consequences of relationship separation changed for older Australians? A comparison of two cohorts

Family law and financial matters
Wednesday 25 July, 1230 – 1250


Lixia Qu
Australian Institute of Family Studies

Matthew Gray
ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University

David Stanton
The University of Queensland

David de Vaus
La Trobe University

When Australia’s “no-fault divorce” (the Family Law Act, 1975) came into effect at the start of 1976, the divorce rate rose spectacularly, then subsided somewhat, but has remained at a much higher level than at any time prior to this change. Four decades on, Australia has seen a significant rise in cohabitation, which has greater instability than marriage. The total effect of these trends is that the overall rate of relationship separation for all couples has increased. Many people with such experience are now entering a later life stage or post-retirement.
Drawing on an early wave of data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, a previous Australian study found that divorce had negative consequences for financial circumstances in later life for both men and women, with the effects being largely mitigated through re-partnering.
However, the employment rate for older Australians, especially for older women, has been increasing over the last two decades. As a result, the financial position of older Australians, including those who have experienced divorce or separation, may have improved. Using 15 waves of HILDA data, this paper compares the experience of two cohorts of older Australians in order to examine the extent and nature of any changes in the financial consequences of divorce for men and women in later life.