Social Security and Divorce Decisions
People who have divorced are entitled to Social Security spousal benefits if their marriages lasted at least ten years. This paper uses 1985-1995 Vital Statistics data and the 2008-2011 American Community Surveys to analyze how this rule affects divorce decisions. I find evidence that the ten-year rule results in a small increase in divorces for the general population; however, the effects vary greatly by age. Divorce decisions change very little for people under the age of 35. For people 55 and older, however, divorces increase by approximately 20 percent around the ten-year cutoff, which leads to an increase in the likelihood of being divorced of 11.7 percent at ten years of marriage. For people between the ages of 35 and 55, who account for over half of divorces, the likelihood of being divorced increases by almost 6 percent as marriages cross the ten-year mark. This heterogeneity across ages likely exists because older people are more focused on retirement and have less time to remarry. These results indicate many people delay divorcing because they need Social Security benefits.
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