Why divorce is good for marriage

Here is my latest New York Times column, featuring the work of Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers (and here); excerpt:

In the United States, the availability of divorce has increased with
unilateral divorce, which allows either member of the couple to
dissolve the union.  The change has been associated with lower rates of
female suicide and domestic violence, and fewer wives murdered by their
husbands.  Unilateral divorce shifts the bargaining power to the person
who is getting less out of the marriage and thus is most likely to
leave.  The partner getting more from the marriage has to work harder to
keep the other person around, which can be good for the marriage and
good for the couple.  In other words, unilateral divorce benefits
victims and potential victims.

…Unilateral divorce does make for less committed marriages.  In states
that allow unilateral divorce, a spouse is 10 percent less likely to be
putting the partner through school.  The obvious fear is that once the
costly education is over, the beneficiary will leave the marriage. In
states with unilateral divorce, adjusting for the relevant
demographics, a couple is 6 percent less likely to have a child.  Again,
couples seem to be making decisions with the prospect of divorce in the
back (or the front) of their minds.


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