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Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: Divorce Laws and Family Distress

Listed author(s):
  • Betsey Stevenson
  • Justin Wolfers

This paper exploits the variation occurring from the different timing of divorce law reforms across the United States to evaluate how unilateral divorce changed family violence and whether the option provided by unilateral divorce reduced suicide and spousal homicide. Unilateral divorce both potentially increases the likelihood that a domestic violence relationship ends and acts to transfer bargaining power toward the abused, thereby potentially stopping the abuse in extant relationships. In states that introduced unilateral divorce we find a 8–16 percent decline in female suicide, roughly a 30 percent decline in domestic violence for both men and women, and a 10 percent decline in females murdered by their partners.

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File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1093/qje/121.1.267
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Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal The Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Volume (Year): 121 (2006)
Issue (Month): 1 ()
Pages: 267-288

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Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:121:y:2006:i:1:p:267-288.
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  1. Thomas S. Dee, 2003. "Until Death Do You Part: The Effects of Unilateral Divorce on Spousal Homicides," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 41(1), pages 163-182, January.
  2. Leora Friedberg, 1998. "Did Unilateral Divorce Raise Divorce Rates? Evidence from Panel Data," NBER Working Papers 6398, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Kelly Bedard & Olivier Deschênes, 2005. "Sex Preferences, Marital Dissolution, and the Economic Status of Women," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 40(2).
  4. Lundberg, Shelly & Pollak, Robert A, 1993. "Separate Spheres Bargaining and the Marriage Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(6), pages 988-1010, December.
  5. Rafael Di Tella & Robert J. MacCulloch & Andrew J. Oswald, 2003. "The Macroeconomics of Happiness," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(4), pages 809-827, November.
  6. John J. Donohue III & Steven D. Levitt, 2001. "The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(2), pages 379-420.
  7. Sara Markowitz, 2000. "The Price of Alcohol, Wife Abuse, and Husband Abuse," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 67(2), pages 279-303, July.
  8. 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.
  9. Miron, Jeffrey A, 1999. "Violence and the U.S. Prohibitions of Drug and Alcohol," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 1(1-2), pages 78-114, Fall.
  10. Lundberg, Shelly & Pollak, Robert A, 1994. "Noncooperative Bargaining Models of Marriage," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(2), pages 132-137, May.
  11. 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.
  12. Linda Waite, 1995. "Does marriage matter?," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 32(4), pages 483-507, November.
  13. Pollak, Robert A, 1994. "For Better or Worse: The Roles of Power in Models of Distribution within Marriage," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(2), pages 148-152, May.
  14. Hamermesh, Daniel S & Soss, Neal M, 1974. "An Economic Theory of Suicide," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(1), pages 83-98, Jan.-Feb..
  15. Shelly Lundberg & Robert A. Pollak, 1996. "Bargaining and Distribution in Marriage," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(4), pages 139-158, Fall.
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