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Where Do People Move Following Separation?

Previous research has shown that separation – either from marriage or from cohabitation – has negative consequences for individuals’ financial and emotional well-being. In this study, we focus on the consequences of separation for individuals’ housing outcomes. Housing, and specifically access to homeownership, is an important dimension of inequality in industrialised countries. Those who can afford to become homeowners will accumulate further advantage over time whereas those who cannot are likely to be disadvantaged.

Separation has an impact on individuals’ housing primarily because when a couple separates, at least one of the two ex-partners needs to move out of their joint home. Given that separation leads to fewer resources, people are likely to move to either temporary accommodation or will rent following separation. Some time after separation, people’s housing circumstance might improve, but a recent study from the United Kingdom (UK) suggests that even several years after separation, people are more likely to move and less likely to become homeowners than those in a steady relationship. As policies, welfare provisions and housing markets vary across industrialised countries, it is expected that separated individuals’ housing outcomes would differ across different contexts.

In this study, we focus on the housing outcomes of separated individuals in four countries: Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Using comparable representative survey data that follows the same individuals over a long period of time (Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia; German Socio-Economic Panel; British Household Panel Survey; and Netherlands Kinship Panel Study), we compare the probability of moving to homeownership, private renting, social renting (i. e., subsidised housing provided by councils or local governments for those in need) and other types of accommodation among partnered and separated men and women. Although the countries differ regarding their support structure and housing opportunities for separated people, we find striking similarities in individuals’ post-separation housing experiences. First of all, separated people are more likely to move to a new home than those who are in a relationship in all countries. Additionally, becoming a renter (especially in the private renting sector) is more common than becoming a homeowner. In Australia, the second most common outcome is homeownership, and in Germany and the UK, it is social renting (in the Netherlands, the data only allow us to distinguish homeownership and other tenure type). We also find interesting tendencies by education and parenthood status. Low-educated individuals tend to become social renters after separation, whereas the highly educated tend to become homeowners. Separated parents are more likely to move to social and private renting than those who are childless (except in the UK, where childless separated people tend to move to private renting).

Taken together, our study suggests that regardless of cross-national differences in policies, welfare provisions and housing markets, individuals face a period of uncertainty regarding their housing outcomes following separation; they are less likely to be homeowners than those who are in a steady relationship. Thus, separation is likely to contribute to long-term housing inequalities in industrialised countries.

Author(s) of the original publication: 
Júlia Mikolai & Hill Kulu