Mothers in the United States use a combination of employment, public transfers, and private safety nets to cushion the economic losses of romantic union dissolution, but changes in maternal labor force participation, government transfer programs, and private social networks may have altered the economic impact of union dissolution over time. Using nationally representative panels from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) from 1984 to 2007, we show that the economic consequences of divorce have declined since the 1980s owing to the growth in married women’s earnings and their receipt of child support and income from personal networks. In contrast, the economic consequences of cohabitation dissolution were modest in the 1980s but have worsened over time. Cohabiting mothers’ income losses associated with union dissolution now closely resemble those of divorced mothers. These trends imply that changes in marital stability have not contributed to rising income instability among families with children, but trends in the extent and economic costs of cohabitation have likely contributed to rising income instability for less-advantaged children.

You do not currently have access to this content.