Precarious employment, low pay, the increased pension age and real-term reductions in welfare benefits are causing increasing numbers of mothers to fall into long-term debt, according to the research, titled Mothers in Debt – Shame, Abuse and Resilience, by researchers at the University of Manchester.
It found that separated or divorced mothers aged 55 and over were more likely to have significantly worse financial problems than fathers of the same age.
“While older mothers are not a homogenous group, many have spent their lives in low-paid jobs and juggling debts, usually as a result of trying to provide for their families,” said Dr Kingsley Purdam, the co-author of the paper, which will appear in the journal Ageing and Society.
44% of older, divorced mothers reported having difficulties keeping up with bills and credit commitments, compared with 19% of married mothers. Older mothers were also more likely than older fathers to report that their finances were getting worse.
“All of the mothers had made financial sacrifices to support their children and maintain their home but were now facing financial penalties for this,” said Kingsley. “The debts had taken over their lives. Some of the women were being threatened with eviction and some were relying on food banks.”
Following the breakdown of relationships, the research found, many older mothers were at increased risk of accumulating debt and of bankruptcy, particularly those aged 55 and over.
“Many women had kept their financial problems hidden due to fear and shame whilst bringing up their children,” said Kingsley. “Some had been subject to coercive control and economic abuse by their former husbands or partners.”
Further research has shown that many older married and divorced women have experienced a lifetime of their husbands controlling the money in the home and continue to do so. After divorce, women can have more difficulties paying off their debts compared with divorced men.
Some women have been found to be trying to overcome control by their husbands and partners by secretly giving money to their children from savings they have made by sacrificing their own needs.
Recent evidence in the UK suggests personal debt levels are at a record high, including debts that can lead to eviction and a prison sentence. Other evidence suggests 8.3 million people in the UK have problem debts.