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Did Unilateral Divorce Laws Raise Divorce Rates? A Reconciliation and New Results

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  • Justin Wolfers

Abstract

Application of the Coase Theorem to marital bargaining suggests that shifting from a consent divorce regime to no-fault unilateral divorce laws should not affect divorce rates. Each iteration of the empirical literature examining the evolution of divorce rates across US states has yielded different conclusions about the effects of divorce law liberalization. I show that these results reflect a failure to jointly consider both the political endogeneity of these divorce laws and the dynamic response of divorce rates to a shock to the political regime. Taking explicit account of the dynamic response of divorce rates to the policy shock, I find that liberalized divorce laws caused a discernible rise in divorce rates for about a decade, but that this increase was substantially reversed over the next decade. That said, this increase explains very little of the rise in the divorce rate over the past half century. Both administrative data on the flow of new divorces, and measures of the stock of divorcees from the census support this conclusion. These results are suggestive of spouses bargaining within marriage, with an eye to their partner's divorce threat.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10014.

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Date of creation: Oct 2003
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10014

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  1. Brinig, Margaret F. & Buckley, F. H., 1998. "No-fault laws and at-fault people," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 325-340, September.
  2. Peters, H Elizabeth, 1986. "Marriage and Divorce: Informational Constraints and Private Contracting," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(3), pages 437-54, June.
  3. Peters, H Elizabeth, 1992. "Marriage and Divorce: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 687-93, June.
  4. Leora Friedberg, 1998. "Did Unilateral Divorce Raise Divorce Rates? Evidence from Panel Data," NBER Working Papers 6398, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Ellman, Ira Mark & Lohr, Sharon L., 1998. "Dissolving the relationship between divorce laws and divorce rates," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 341-359, September.
  6. H. D. Vinod & B. D. McCullough, 1999. "The Numerical Reliability of Econometric Software," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(2), pages 633-665, June.
  7. St├ęphane Mechoulan, 2006. "Divorce Laws and the Structure of the American Family," Working Papers tecipa-245, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
  8. Rowthorn, Robert, 1999. "Marriage and Trust: Some Lessons from Economics," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(5), pages 661-91, September.
  9. Dewald, William G & Thursby, Jerry G & Anderson, Richard G, 1986. "Replication in Empirical Economics: The Journal of Money, Credit and Banking Project," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(4), pages 587-603, September.
  10. Allen, Douglas W, 1992. "Marriage and Divorce: Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 679-85, June.
  11. Binner, Jane M & Dnes, Antony W, 2001. "Marriage, Divorce, and Legal Change: New Evidence from England and Wales," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 39(2), pages 298-306, April.
  12. Jonathan Gruber, 2000. "Is Making Divorce Easier Bad for Children? The Long Run Implications of Unilateral Divorce," NBER Working Papers 7968, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  1. Tools of the trade: when to use those sample weights
    by Jed Friedman in Development Impact on 2013-03-13 13:01:04
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