IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

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

  • Cahit Guven
  • Claudia Senik
  • Holger Stichnoth

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.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

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

in new window

Length: 41 p.
Date of creation: 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp261
Contact details of provider: Postal:
Mohrenstraße 58, D-10117 Berlin

Phone: xx49-30-89789-671
Fax: xx49-30-89789-109
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Stevenson, Betsey & Wolfers, Justin, 2007. "Marriage and Divorce: Changes and their Driving Forces," IZA Discussion Papers 2602, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, . "What can Economists Learn from Happiness Research?," IEW - Working Papers 080, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  3. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2009. "The paradox of declining female happiness," Working Paper Series 2009-11, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  4. Weiss, Y. & Willis, R.J., 1995. "Match Quality, New Information and Marital Dissolution," Papers 33-95, Tel Aviv - the Sackler Institute of Economic Studies.
  5. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "A Theory of Marriage: Part II," NBER Chapters, in: Marriage, Family, Human Capital, and Fertility, pages 11-26 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Ulrich Schimmack & Richard Lucas, 2007. "Marriage Matters: Spousal Similarity in Life Satisfaction," Schmollers Jahrbuch : Journal of Applied Social Science Studies / Zeitschrift für Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, vol. 127(1), pages 105-111.
  7. Alberto Alesina & Paola Giuliano, 2007. "The Power of the Family," NBER Working Papers 13051, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Clark, Andrew E. & Frijters, Paul & Shields, Michael A., 2007. "Relative Income, Happiness and Utility: An Explanation for the Easterlin Paradox and Other Puzzles," IZA Discussion Papers 2840, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  9. Adrian Bruhin & Rainer Winkelmann, 2007. "Happiness Functions with Preference Interdependence and Heterogeneity: The Case of Altruism within the Family," SOI - Working Papers 0702, Socioeconomic Institute - University of Zurich, revised Feb 2008.
  10. Stutzer, Alois & Frey, Bruno S., 2006. "Does marriage make people happy, or do happy people get married?," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 326-347, April.
  11. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "A Theory of Marriage," NBER Chapters, in: Economics of the Family: Marriage, Children, and Human Capital, pages 299-351 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Jonathan Gardner & Andrew J. Oswald, 2006. "Do divorcing couples become happier by breaking up?," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 169(2), pages 319-336.
  13. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2003. "Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: Divorce Laws and Family Distress," NBER Working Papers 10175, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Anke C. Zimmermann & Richard A. Easterlin, 2006. "Happily Ever After? Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Happiness in Germany," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 32(3), pages 511-528.
  15. Evelyn Lehrer, 1996. "Religion as a determinant of marital fertility," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 9(2), pages 173-196, June.
  16. Yuanreng Hu & Noreen Goldman, 1990. "Mortality Differentials by Marital Status: An International Comparison," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 27(2), pages 233-250, May.
  17. Michael J. Brien & Lee A. Lillard & Steven Stern, 2006. "Cohabitation, Marriage, And Divorce In A Model Of Match Quality," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 47(2), pages 451-494, 05.
  18. Simon Clark, 1999. "Law, Property, and Marital Dissolution," ESE Discussion Papers 32, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
  19. Wolfgang Frimmel & Martin Halla & Rudolf Winter-Ebmer, 2009. "Assortative Mating and Divorce: Evidence from Austrian Register Data," Economics working papers 2009-10, Department of Economics, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria.
  20. Niko Matouschek & Imran Rasul, 2008. "The Economics of the Marriage Contract: Theories and Evidence," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 51(1), pages 59-110, 02.
  21. Peter Thompson, 2008. "Desperate Housewives? Communication Difficulties and the Dynamics of Marital (un)Happiness," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 118(532), pages 1640-1669, October.
  22. Wilson, Chris M. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2005. "How Does Marriage Affect Physical and Psychological Health? A Survey of the Longitudinal Evidence," IZA Discussion Papers 1619, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  23. Imran Rasul, 2006. "Marriage Markets and Divorce Laws," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 22(1), pages 30-69, April.
  24. Chiappori, P.A., 1989. "Collective Labour Supply and Welfare," DELTA Working Papers 89-07, DELTA (Ecole normale supérieure).
  25. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Melvin Stephens Jr., 2001. "Job Displacement, Disability, and Divorce," NBER Working Papers 8578, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  26. Kornelius Kraft & Stefanie Neimann, 2009. "Effect of Labor Division between Wife and Husband on the Risk of Divorce: Evidence from German Data," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 223, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  27. Sueyoshi, Glenn T, 1995. "A Class of Binary Response Models for Grouped Duration Data," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 10(4), pages 411-31, Oct.-Dec..
  28. Contoyannis, Paul & Jones, Andrew M., 2004. "Socio-economic status, health and lifestyle," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(5), pages 965-995, September.
  29. Becker, Gary S & Landes, Elisabeth M & Michael, Robert T, 1977. "An Economic Analysis of Marital Instability," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(6), pages 1141-87, December.
  30. Claudia Senik, 2008. "Direct evidence on income comparisons and their welfare effects," PSE Working Papers halshs-00588023, HAL.
  31. Becker, Gary S, 1974. "On the Relevance of the New Economics of the Family," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(2), pages 317-19, May.
  32. Claudia Senik, 2009. "Income Distribution and Subjective Happiness: A Survey," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 96, OECD Publishing.
  33. Clark, Andrew E., 2001. "What really matters in a job? Hedonic measurement using quit data," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(2), pages 223-242, May.
  34. Oswald, Andrew & Jonathan Gardner, 2003. "Is it Money or Marriage that Keeps People Alive?," Royal Economic Society Annual Conference 2003 161, Royal Economic Society.
  35. Nattavudh Powdthavee, 2004. "Testing for Utility Interdependence in Marriage: Evidence from Panel Data," Labor and Demography 0403037, EconWPA, revised 01 Apr 2004.
  36. Ulrich Schimmack & Richard Lucas, 2006. "Marriage Matters: Spousal Similarity in Life Satisfaction," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 623, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
  37. N Powdthavee, 2008. "I Can’t Smile Without You: Spousal Correlation in Life Satisfaction," Discussion Papers 08/16, Department of Economics, University of York.
  38. Becker, Gary S, 1981. "Altruism in the Family and Selfishness in the Market Place," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 48(189), pages 1-15, February.
  39. Melanie Davern & Robert Cummins & Mark Stokes, 2007. "Subjective Wellbeing as an Affective-Cognitive Construct," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 8(4), pages 429-449, December.
  40. Andrew E. Clark & Claudia Senik, 2011. "Is happiness different from flourishing? Cross-country evidence from the ESS," PSE Working Papers halshs-00561867, HAL.
  41. Chiappori, Pierre-Andre, 1988. "Rational Household Labor Supply," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(1), pages 63-90, January.
  42. Freeman, Richard B, 1978. "Job Satisfaction as an Economic Variable," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 68(2), pages 135-41, May.
  43. Daniel Kahneman & Alan B. Krueger, 2006. "Developments in the Measurement of Subjective Well-Being," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(1), pages 3-24, Winter.
  44. DiTella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert & Oswald, Andrew J., 1999. "The macroeconomics of happiness," ZEI Working Papers B 03-1999, University of Bonn, ZEI - Center for European Integration Studies.
  45. Allen, Douglas W, 1992. "Marriage and Divorce: Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 679-85, June.
  46. Rafael Di Tella & Robert MacCulloch, 2006. "Some Uses of Happiness Data in Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(1), pages 25-46, Winter.
  47. Evelyn Lehrer & Carmel Chiswick, 1993. "Religion as a determinant of marital stability," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 30(3), pages 385-404, August.
  48. Bruce Headey & Ruud Muffels & Gert G. Wagner, 2010. "Choices Which Change Life Satisfaction: Revising SWB Theory to Account for Change," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 1010, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is featured on the following reading lists or Wikipedia pages:

  1. SOEP based publications

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp261. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Bibliothek)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.