Theses Doctoral

Divorce and the Politics of the American Social Welfare Regime, 1969-2001

Kahn, Suzanne

Divorce and the Politics of the American Social Welfare Regime, 1969-2001 asks how rising divorce rates shaped the laws governing the American social welfare regime between 1969, when California passed the nation’s first no-fault divorce law, and 2001. Scholars have shown that in the early 20th century the American social welfare regime developed to distribute economic resources, such as Social Security, to women through their husbands. Between 1967 and 1979, however, the United States’ divorce rate doubled. This dissertation investigates how this sudden challenge to the breadwinner-homemaker family structure affected the gendered welfare regime.
Divorce and the Politics of the American Social Welfare Regime examines how women organized to gain access to lost economic resources after divorce and how policymakers responded to their demands. It reveals important and forgotten components of the histories of welfare state development, the feminist movement of the 1970s, and marriage law. It argues that, ironically, rising divorce rates led to a series of federal laws that actually strengthened the social welfare system’s use of marriage to determine eligiblity for benefits. These new laws specifically rewarded intact marriages by providing more robust benefits to women in longer marriages. In a political world increasingly concerned with the impermenance of marriage, Congress created a legal system that signaled that marriage was about length of commitment above all else.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Kessler-Harris, Alice
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 26, 2015