How Women Go Bankrupt

As the world struggles to emerge from the economic near-collapse of last fall, there is one sub-group that has slid below the waterline in record numbers: formerly middle-class women. A new report shows that a million American middle-class women will find themselves in bankruptcy court this year. This is more women than will “graduate from college, receive a diagnosis of cancer, or file for divorce,” according to the economist Elizabeth Warren . Their plight, symptomatic in many ways of the plight of women around the world, holds lessons for us all.

These bankrupt women are better educated than their male counterparts: most have some college; and more than half own their own homes. What tipped them from middle-class lifestyles to incomes just above the poverty line were likely to have been one or all of three factors. Two are economic, and, for many women, the third may be emotional.