Volume 49 - Article 4 | Pages 47–82  

Separation as an accelerator of housing inequalities: Parents’ and children’s post-separation housing careers in Sweden

By Kirsten van Houdt


Background: Parents who separate face the challenge of an urgent change in housing needs. Both parents have their individual needs – e.g., proximity to work – as well as the common need to provide stability for their children and to stay involved – e.g., proximity to school and living space for the children. The urgency and specificity of the needs might be particularly problematic for parents with few financial resources, especially in today’s competitive housing market.

Objective: The aim of this study is to show whether, and to what extent, the consequences of parental separation for housing careers are stratified by parents’ income.

Methods: Using Swedish administrative data, the study analyzes pre- and post-separation housing careers (moving distance, frequency, housing type, and neighborhood) of parents with minor children between 2011 and 2020 (N = 27,204 parent couples).

Results: Parents with lower incomes suffer greater increases in housing instability after a separation, with more frequent moves and a higher tendency to exchange owner-occupied for rental housing. In addition, they move over longer distances and end up living further away from each other. At the same time, parents with middle and higher incomes suffer the largest downgrades in housing type and neighborhood deprivation, mothers in particular.

Conclusions: Although the results imply that a separation involves a certain level of convergence in housing inequalities, lower-income parents also experience a downgrade and are, pre- and post-separation, worst off.

Contribution: This study reveals that housing instability forms another, underexposed way in which lower-income families suffer stronger economic and potentially emotional consequences of separation.

Author's Affiliation

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