Did Unilateral Divorce Laws Raise Divorce Rates? A Reconciliation and New Results [report]

Justin Wolfers
2003 unpublished
Application of the Coase Theorem to marital bargaining suggests that shifting from a consent divorce regime to no-fault unilateral divorce laws should not affect divorce rates. Each iteration of the empirical literature examining the evolution of divorce rates across US states has yielded different conclusions about the effects of divorce law liberalization. I show that these results reflect a failure to explicitly model the dynamic response of divorce rates to a shock to the policy regime.
more » ... policy regime. Taking explicit account of the dynamic response of divorce rates to the policy shock, I find that liberalized divorce laws caused a discernible rise in divorce rates for about a decade, with much of this effect concentrated in the first few years, and much smaller effects in following years. Estimates of longerterm effects are more fragile, and cannot reject either moderately positive or moderately negative changes. None of my estimates suggest that unilateral divorce laws can explain much of the rise in the divorce rate over the past half century. These results are suggestive of spouses bargaining within marriage, with an eye to their partner's divorce threat. Contact: jwolfers@wharton.upenn.edu www.nber.org/~jwolfers Special thanks to Leora Friedberg both for sharing her data and for several very fruitful discussions that have improved this paper; thanks also to Jon Gruber for help in trying to reconcile our estimates. Eric Klotch provided outstanding research assistance. This paper has also benefited from useful conversations with
doi:10.3386/w10014 fatcat:wf57y446cnglbkrdzq3a3obc7i