NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Did Rising Divorce Rate Create The "Gender Gap?"

March 11, 2002

In the early post-war period, women tended to favor Republican candidates and men favored Democrats. But in recent decades, voting patterns have reversed sharply -- with far more women supporting Democrats and men voting Republican.

Conventional explanations for such developments are the sharp increase in working women, feminism and women's concern over social issues such as abortion.

But a new study by Columbia University economists Lena C. Edlund and Rohini Pande have identified another factor: the decline in marriage and the rising divorce rate.

  • Since the early 1960s -- as the proportion of marriages ending in divorce rose to nearly 50 percent and as more people chose to delay marriage or remain single -- the unmarried share of the adult population has surged to 44 percent.
  • Arguing that the decline in marriage has tended to make men richer and women poorer -- and presumably, the "rich" identifying with Republicans and the "poor" with Democrats -- the researchers find that states with rising divorce rates have seen declining support for Democrats among men and markedly rising support among women.
  • Such shifts seem limited largely to middle-income voters.

Interestingly, the authors also find no evidence that women's views on social and religious issues affect the political gender gap.

Source: Gene Koretz, "Economic Trends: Divorce and Women Voters," Business Week, March 11, 2002.

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