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Letter to the Editor

Web posted and Copyright © October 1, 1999, American Bankruptcy Institute.

Dear Editor:

study by Thomas Neubig of Ernst & Young in July took issue with the bankruptcy gender analysis that Teresa A. Sullivan and Elizabeth Warren prepared. Neubig hoped that his more "accurate information" would "provide the foundation for decision-making on important public policy matters." Data from Nebraska and Iowa suggest that the E&Y study presents inaccurate information.

Part of the E&Y protocol was a 2,100 petition sample of chapter 7s filed during 1997 drawn from each bankruptcy district in the country. This means about 23 cases per district out of approximately 957,117 consumer and 32,255 business chapter 7s filed in 1997. E&Y's most recent sample is more than one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half years old. E&Y reports that individual women and individual men each comprise 32 percent of the chapter 7 filings and that joint filings represent 36 percent of the filings. This study was allegedly superior to the Sullivan-Warren sample of 1,521 bankruptcy petitions filed in seven district during the first quarter of 1999.

The following data is based on 14,644 chapter 7 and 13 filings in Nebraska and 4,783 chapter 7 and 13 filings in the Southern District of Iowa, Western Division. This is not a sample but an actual count of all consumer cases filed. Going one-on-one eliminates inherent sampling errors and biases. What has emerged is a picture much closer to the Sullivan-Warren disclosures than that of E&Y.

Gender in Nebraska Chapter 7 and 13 Bankruptcy Filings, 1997-99
Time Period Women Men Joint
Jan.-June '97 33% 27% 40%
July-Dec. '97 33% 27% 40%
Jan.-June '98 34% 28% 38%
July-Dec. '98 34% 25% 40%
Jan.-June '99 36% 26% 38%

Gender in Southern District of Iowa, Western Division,
Chapter 7 and 13 Bankruptcy Filings, 1991-1999
Year Women Men Joint
1991 18.8% 21.6% 59.6%
1992 23.4% 22% 54.9%
1993 24.9% 22.1% 54.3%
1994 22.2% 24.9% 52.9%
1995 31.3% 23.8% 44.9%
1996 27.6% 27.6% 44.7%
1997 30.5% 24.4% 45.1%
1998 31.3% 25.6% 43%
1999 33.2% 24.8% 42%

Nebraska statistics show that in calendar year 1997 women filed 33.2 percent and men filed 27.1 percent of the cases. This is a 6.1 percent difference between women and men. In Iowa during 1997, women filed 30.5 percent and men filed 24.4 percent of the cases, again representing a 6.1 percent difference.

This is significantly different from E&Y's finding that "there are no gender differences" in 1997, and that men and women filed in equal portions of 32 percent each in that year. Not only were there gender differences in 1997 in Iowa and Nebraska, but they have been exacerbated in 1998 and 1999.

Putting a face on these statistics is more difficult. What is clear is that there is a trend in the deterioration of the economic status of women. The largest decline was in joint (married) filings, which suggests that the structure of poverty and economic hardship is changing.

Oliver B. Pollak
Professor of History
University of Nebraska at Omaha



 

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