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You Can't Be Happier Than Your Wife: Happiness Gaps and Divorce

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  • Cahit Guven
  • Claudia Senik
  • Holger Stichnoth

Abstract

This paper asks whether the gap in subjective happiness between spouses matters per se, i.e. whether it predicts divorce. We use three panel databases to explore this question. Controlling for the level of life satisfaction of spouses, we find that a higher satisfaction gap, even in the first year of marriage, increases the likelihood of a future separation. We interpret this as the effect of comparisons of well-being between spouses, i.e. aversion to unequal sharing of wellbeing inside couples. To our knowledge, this effect has never been taken into account by existing economic models of the household. The relation between happiness gaps and divorce may be due to the fact that couples which are unable to transfer utility are more at risk than others. It may also be the case that assortative mating in terms of happiness baseline-level reduces the risk of separation. However, we show that assortative mating is not the end of the story. First, our results hold in fixed-effects estimates that take away the effect of the initial quality of the match between spouses: fixed-effects estimates suggest that a widening of the happiness gap over time raises the risk of separation. Second, we uncover an asymmetry in the effect of happiness gaps: couples are more likely to break-up when the difference in life satisfaction is unfavourable to the wife. The information available in the Australian survey reveals that divorces are indeed predominantly initiated by women, and importantly, by women who are unhappier than their husband. Hence, happiness gaps seem to matter to spouses, not only because they reflect a mismatch in terms of baseline happiness, but because they matter as such.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) in its series SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research with number 261.

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Length: 41 p.
Date of creation: 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp261

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Keywords: Divorce; happiness; comparisons; panel; households; marriage;

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References

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As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
  1. Divorce and the happiness gap
    by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2010-02-17 15:41:00
  2. Se o marido for mais feliz do que a esposa, é divórcio quase certo
    by Thiago Perin in Ciência Maluca on 2010-05-21 17:46:21
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Cited by:
  1. Vladimir Otrachshenko & Olga Popova, 2012. "Life (Dis)satisfaction and the Decision to Migrate: Evidence from Central and Eastern Europe," FEUNL Working Paper Series wp570, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Faculdade de Economia.
  2. Matthias Fahn & Ray Rees, 2011. "Household Relational Contracts for Marriage, Fertility and Divorce," CESifo Working Paper Series 3655, CESifo Group Munich.
  3. Bruce Headey & Ruud Muffels & Gert G. Wagner, 2012. "Parents Transmit Happiness along with Associated Values and Behaviors to Their Children: A Lifelong Happiness Divided?," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 492, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  4. Susanne Elsas, 2013. "Pooling and Sharing Income within Households: A Satisfaction Approach," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 587, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  5. repec:hal:wpaper:halshs-00564985 is not listed on IDEAS
  6. de Moura, Mauricio Jose Serpa Barros & da Silveira Bueno, Rodrigo De Losso, 2013. "Land title program in Brazil: Are there any changes to happiness?," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 196-203.
  7. Ruud Muffels & Bruce Headey, 2013. "Capabilities and Choices: Do They Make Sen’se for Understanding Objective and Subjective Well-Being? An Empirical Test of Sen’s Capability Framework on German and British Panel Data," Social Indicators Research, Springer, Springer, vol. 110(3), pages 1159-1185, February.
  8. Krauss, Alexander & Graham, Carol, 2013. "Subjective wellbeing in Colombia : some insights on vulnerability, job security, and relative incomes," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6672, The World Bank.
  9. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell, 2013. "Happiness economics," SERIEs, Spanish Economic Association, Spanish Economic Association, vol. 4(1), pages 35-60, March.
  10. Hamermesh, Daniel S. & Kawaguchi, Daiji & Lee, Jungmin, 2014. "Does Labor Legislation Benefit Workers? Well-Being after an Hours Reduction," IZA Discussion Papers 8077, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  11. Becchetti, Leonardo & Massari, Riccardo & Naticchioni, Paolo, 2013. "The Drivers of Happiness Inequality: Suggestions for Promoting Social Cohesion," IZA Discussion Papers 7153, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

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