IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The Value of Commitment: Marriage Choice in the Presence of Costly Divorce


  • Yurko, Anna


Two individuals may choose to enter a coresidential relationship, which may or may not include joint property ownership and raising children. In addition to that, individuals may decide to formalize this contractual relationship by holding a marriage ceremony. The literature on coresidential relationships typically assumes that the formal marriage contract offers additional tangible benefits to the couple. However, this assumption is not obvious, and these potential benefits (or costs) may vary greatly across societies and time. What remains invariant, however, is the typically higher costs of terminating a relationship that has been “sealed” by marriage. The goal of this paper is to develop a simple dynamic model that can explain the existence of marriage contract. The model assumes that the only difference between marriage and non-marital cohabitation is the higher contract termination cost associated with marriage, and that the agents are free to enter either type of relationship contract. The quality of the match evolves randomly and independently over time, and every period each of the paired agents makes his or her decision on whether to stay in the given relationship or terminate it and seek another one based on the current match quality and expectations about the future. The relationship survives only if both agents choose to not terminate it. The unilateral decision to end a relationship by one agent may impose a negative externality on her partner, if he still would prefer to maintain it. The main finding is that when break-up costs are sufficiently high, choosing a marriage contract that provides even higher termination cost may reduce the expected break-up externality and result in greater welfare.

Suggested Citation

  • Yurko, Anna, 2010. "The Value of Commitment: Marriage Choice in the Presence of Costly Divorce," MPRA Paper 22566, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:22566

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: original version
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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, May.
    2. Ian Smith, 2004. "The foundations of marriage: are they crumbling?," International Journal of Social Economics, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 31(5/6), pages 487-500, May.
    3. Leora Friedberg, 1998. "Did Unilateral Divorce Raise Divorce Rates? Evidence from Panel Data," NBER Working Papers 6398, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item


    family economics; marriage; cohabitation; externalities;

    JEL classification:

    • D62 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Externalities
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:22566. 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: (Joachim Winter) or (Rebekah McClure). General contact details of provider: .

    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 CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc 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 RePEc Author Service 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.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.