Alimony Seen Through the Gender Prism

Today I am grateful to Kate Bahn, feminist economist (as she styles herself). Because she has given me an easy topic for a blog post. I read with interest her piece "In Defense Of Alimony, From A Feminist Economist," and it provoked an immediate urge to respond.

Not that I feel the urge to refute anything that Bahn says. I'm quite sympathetic to the sacrifices that women make for the sake of marriage, and am all in favor of their fair treatment in the event of divorce. It's just that Bahn and I apparently see gender roles in marriage through very different prisms. And therefore alimony appears a much trickier issue to me than to Bahn, especially as an issue of fairness to women.

In my circle of acquaintances I know of no men paying alimony to their ex-wives. I do know of women paying alimony to ex-husbands. The typical story runs like this: Couple gets married, wife has a decent job, husband somehow never gets around to finding a job. (I suspect this has something to do with the general male malaise of our times.) After some years, the couple gets divorced, to which failure of the husband to find a job may be a contributing factor. And because the ex-husband never had a job, the ex-wife is stuck paying him alimony.

Doesn't seem fair to me.

I have seen this happen even in cases where the ex-husband has a history of beating the ex-wife.

One can try to cast this story as the husband sacrificing his career for the sake of the marriage, but I really don't think so. For example, the wife may be paying for child care as well as supporting the husband because the husband is unwilling or unable to mind the children.

An alternate version of this story is where the wife wants to divorce but can't, or won't, because of the looming burden of alimony.

(Sarcasm on: And thus feminism triumphs.)

Question for discussion: If we imagine this scenario with the genders reversed, does it change how we feel about the situation? Should it?

Another question: Is there an objective way to distinguish the spouse who sacrifices his/her career for the sake of the marriage from the slob who won't get a job? Is it a real distinction, or just perception?

So, I don't know whether alimony is a good idea, or not. I just don't see it as the slam-dunk that Bahn does.

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