Collateralized Marriage [report]

Jeanne Lafortune, Corinne Low
2020 unpublished
We study the role of wealth in the marriage contract by developing a model of the household where investments in public goods can be made at the cost of future earnings. If couples cannot commit ex ante to a sufficiently equal post-divorce allocation, specialization and public good creation will be sub-optimal. However, accumulating joint assets, which the marriage contract specifies are to be divided in the case of divorce, can reduce this problem by offering insurance to the lower earning
more » ... ner. Our model demonstrates that access to this "collateralized" version of the contract will lead to more household specialization, more public goods, and a higher value of marriage. To test the model's predictions, we use homeownership as a proxy for access to joint savings technology, since homes are particularly likely to be divided in a way that favors the lower earning partner. We use idiosyncratic variation in housing prices at the time of marriage and an instrumental variables strategy to show that quasi-exogenous variation in homeownership access leads to greater specialization. We then show that as policies made marriage and nonmarital fertility more similar in other ways, wealth has become a more important determinant of who marries. Our model and empirical results suggest wealthy individuals can access a more advantageous marriage contract, which has important policy implications.
doi:10.3386/w27210 fatcat:6j5ex5pitbcchggjajdgjwseca