Will the possibility of divorce discourage marriage-specific investment?
Becker et al. (1977) argue that the possibility of divorce discourages the accumulation of marriage-specific capital. Their argument has been confirmed by empirical studies that assume labor supply and marriage-specific investment are negatively related. We argue that since it is possible for individuals to increase marriage-specific investment without changing labor supply simultaneously, the conventional approach using the change in labor supply to infer to the change in marriage-specific investment may lead to a biased conclusion. This paper incorporates dynamic and stochastic optimal control approach into a material-spiritual goods framework. The model disentangles marriage-specific investment form other marital effort, and demonstrates that only part of effort devoted to marriage is marriage-specific investment and only the individuals who have spiritual and emotional needs make marriage-specific investment. Marriage-specific investment is highest in marriages where individuals behave altruistically, lower in marriages where individuals behave selfishly, and zero in marriages where spiritual goods are not valued. The model also implies a result that is contrary to conventional wisdom: the possibility of divorce does not always discourage, and may even encourage, marriage-specific investment. Since the impact of the divorce risk on marriage-specific investment depends on three factors: time preference, the level of the risk and the correlation between the divorce risk and marriage-specific capital, it could be optimal for an individual to invest more under uncertainty than in the corresponding risk-free world if he or she can well understand and predict his or her partner's spiritual needs. The key factor in the decision process is the confidence in predicting the partner's spiritual needs.
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Volume (Year): 39 (2010)
Issue (Month): 2 (April)
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