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Marriage, Divorce, and Asymmetric Information

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  • Steven Stern

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  • Leora Friedberg

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Abstract

In answers to unique questions from the National Survey of Fam- ilies and Households, people reveal their valuations of their options outside of marriage as well as their beliefs about their spouses?options. We use this data to demonstrate several features of household bargaining. First, we document marriages in which one spouse would be happier outside the marriage and the other spouse would be unhappier. This provides a new type of evidence that bargaining takes place. Second, we show that spouses have private information about their outside options, and we estimate a bargaining model that quanti?es the extent of resulting ine¢ ciencies. Third, we incorporate caring preferences and imperfect substitutability of utility into the estimation. Without these features, estimation predicts unrealistically high divorce rates, arising because spouses drive too hard a bargain in the presence of asymmetric information and linear utility. After allowing for interdependent and diminishing marginal util- ity from marital surplus, both of which are identi?ed by incorporating divorce data, our divorce predictions are reasonable. These results show that agents forego their own utility in order to raise the utility of their spouses, and, in doing so, o¤set much of the ine¢ ciency generated by their imperfect knowledge. In contrast, a social planner with only public information about spouses?outside options reduces welfare considerably by keeping far too many couples together. In sum, we ?nd evidence about two key features of marriage ?asymmetric in- formation and interdependent utility ?which are difficult to identify in most studies of interpersonal relationships.

Suggested Citation

  • Steven Stern & Leora Friedberg, 2010. "Marriage, Divorce, and Asymmetric Information," Virginia Economics Online Papers 385, University of Virginia, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:vir:virpap:385
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    Cited by:

    1. Mohammad Reza Farzanegan & Hassan F. Gholipour, 2018. "Divorce and Gold Coins: A Case Study of Iran," CESifo Working Paper Series 6873, CESifo Group Munich.
    2. Edwards, Ryan D. & Roff, Jennifer, 2016. "What mom and dad’s match means for junior: Marital sorting and child outcomes," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 43-56.
    3. Telalagic, S., 2012. "Domestic Production as a Source of Marital Power: Theory and Evidence from Malawi," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1243, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    4. Anderson, Siwan & Genicot, Garance, 2015. "Suicide and property rights in India," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 114(C), pages 64-78.
    5. Leora Friedberg & Anthony Webb, 2006. "Determinants and Consequences of Bargaining Power in Households," NBER Working Papers 12367, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Pablo Brassiolo, 2016. "Domestic Violence and Divorce Law: When Divorce Threats Become Credible," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(2), pages 443-477.
    7. Selma Walther, 2017. "Moral hazard in marriage: the use of domestic labor as an incentive device," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 15(2), pages 357-382, June.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    marriage; divorce; bargaining; asymmetric information;

    JEL classification:

    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • C78 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Bargaining Theory; Matching Theory
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design

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