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Is Making Divorce Easier Bad for Children? The Long Run Implications of Unilateral Divorce

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  • Jonathan Gruber

Abstract

Most states in the U.S. allow for unilateral divorce, which increases the ease of divorce by not requiring the explicit consent of both partners. Such regulations have come under fire for their perceived negative consequences for marital stability and resulting child outcomes, but there is no evidence to date to support the contention that easier divorce regulations are actually bad for children. I assess the long run implications for children of growing up in a unilateral divorce environment, by measuring how such youth exposure affects adult outcomes. Using 40 years of census data to exploit the variation across states and over time in changes in divorce regulation, I confirm that unilateral divorce regulations do significantly increase the incidence of divorce. I also find that adults who were exposed to unilateral divorce regulations as children are less well educated and have lower family incomes. They are also more likely themselves to be both married and separated, and both of these effects appear to reflect primarily a shift towards earlier marriage and separation. Women in these exposed cohorts are less attached to the labor force, while men are somewhat more attached; the timing of these effects appears consistent with a causal role for marriage. Thus, exposure to easier divorce regulation as a youth appears to worsen adult outcomes along a number of dimensions, but the ultimate implications depend on the long run impacts of earlier family formation among this cohort.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7968 Note: LS CH PE
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Sheila Krein & Andrea Beller, 1988. "Educational attainment of children from single-parent families: Differences by exposure, gender, and race," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 25(2), pages 221-234, May.
    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. Peters, H Elizabeth, 1992. "Marriage and Divorce: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 687-693, June.
    4. Gray, Jeffrey S, 1998. "Divorce-Law Changes, Household Bargaining, and Married Women's Labor Supply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(3), pages 628-642, June.
    5. Spiros Bougheas & Yannis Georgellis, 1999. "The effect of divorce costs on marriage formation and dissolution," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 12(3), pages 489-498.
    6. Leora Friedberg, 1998. "Did Unilateral Divorce Raise Divorce Rates? Evidence from Panel Data," NBER Working Papers 6398, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. 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
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth

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