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

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  • Justin Wolfers

Abstract

Applying the Coase Theorem to marital bargaining suggests that shifting from consent to unilateral divorce laws will not affect divorce rates. I show that existing evidence suggesting large effects of divorce laws on divorce rates reflect a failure to explicitly model the dynamic response of divorce rates to a shock to the legal regime. When accounting for these dynamics, I find that unilateral divorce spiked following the adoption of unilateral divorce laws, but that this rise largely reversed itself within a decade. Overall, these changes in family law explain very little of the rise in divorce over the past half-century. (JEL C78, J12)

Suggested Citation

  • Justin Wolfers, 2006. "Did Unilateral Divorce Laws Raise Divorce Rates? A Reconciliation and New Results," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1802-1820, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:96:y:2006:i:5:p:1802-1820
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.96.5.1802
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Leora Friedberg, 1998. "Did Unilateral Divorce Raise Divorce Rates? Evidence from Panel Data," NBER Working Papers 6398, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. 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.
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    4. Marianne Bertrand & Esther Duflo & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2004. "How Much Should We Trust Differences-In-Differences Estimates?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 119(1), pages 249-275.
    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. Peters, H Elizabeth, 1986. "Marriage and Divorce: Informational Constraints and Private Contracting," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(3), pages 437-454, June.
    7. Rowthorn, Robert, 1999. "Marriage and Trust: Some Lessons from Economics," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(5), pages 661-691, September.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
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    11. 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.
    12. Peters, H Elizabeth, 1992. "Marriage and Divorce: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 687-693, June.
    13. Stéphane Mechoulan, 2006. "Divorce Laws and the Structure of the American Family," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(1), pages 143-174, January.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination

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