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Did Unilateral Divorce Raise Divorce Rates? Evidence from Panel Data

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  • Leora Friedberg

Abstract

This paper revisits the evidence on the impact of unilateral divorce laws on divorce rates in the United States. Most states switched from requiring mutual consent to allowing unilateral or no-fault divorce between 1970 and 1985, while the national divorce rate more than doubled after 1965. According to the Coase theorem, however, the legal shift should have had no effect on divorce rates. Recent papers using cross-sectional micro data have disputed the empirical importance of unilateral divorce, disagreeing in particular about controls for state-level heterogeneity in divorce propensities. This paper uses a panel of state-level divorce rates which includes virtually every divorce in the U.S. over the entire period of the law changes. Adding comprehensive controls - year and state fixed effects and state fixed trends - for changing unobservable divorce propensities reveals that the divorce rate would have been about 6% lower if states had not switched to unilateral divorce, accounting for 17% of the increase in the divorce rate between 1968 and 1988. Additional results in this paper demonstrate that the type of unilateral divorce law that states adopted matters. Weaker versions of unilateral divorce, which retain elements of mutual divorce, raised the divorce rate significantly, but by less than the strongest versions of unilateral divorce did.

Suggested Citation

  • Leora Friedberg, 1998. "Did Unilateral Divorce Raise Divorce Rates? Evidence from Panel Data," NBER Working Papers 6398, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6398 Note: PE
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Jacobson, Louis S & LaLonde, Robert J & Sullivan, Daniel G, 1993. "Earnings Losses of Displaced Workers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(4), pages 685-709, September.
    2. Peters, H Elizabeth, 1986. "Marriage and Divorce: Informational Constraints and Private Contracting," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(3), pages 437-454, June.
    3. Gruber, Jonathan & Madrian, Brigitte C, 1995. "Health-Insurance Availability and the Retirement Decision," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, pages 938-948.
    4. Peters, H Elizabeth, 1992. "Marriage and Divorce: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 687-693, June.
    5. Gruber, Jonathan & Hanratty, Maria, 1995. "The Labor-Market Effects of Introducing National Health Insurance: Evidence from Canada," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 13(2), pages 163-173, April.
    6. Allen, Douglas W, 1992. "Marriage and Divorce: Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 679-685, June.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • K39 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Other

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