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.

Comments

There are significant externalities involved, partcularly for children of couples who get divorced. I agree there are benefits
to easy diovorce, but I don't think they outweigh the costs.

"In other words, modern marriage is more fun."

Thanks for reminding me!

As usual a fascinating and thought provoking piece from Dr. Cowan. I am still working through it in my mind.

I am reminded though of another recent post from TC, the post that addressed, tangentially, the tragedy at Virginia Tech. TC wrote...

†¦ I see weaker social and family constraints, whatever their other benefits, as having dangerous effects on the psychotic outliers.

Does easier divorce strengthen or weaken family constraints? Weaker constraints have implications that are not immediately obvious.

Where is Good-Tyler? It's all well and good to point out the benefits, but the cost of divorce is virtually ignored here. Perhaps because it's not easily framed in economic terms?

The same is true for de facto couples.In Latinamerica men behave better with women when they "live in sin".You have to work harder in the relationship as the easier is the way out.

Very well said. I wish that people were more open to concepts such as divorce in my part of the world as well...really, it is just rational that one should be allowed to nullify an unhappy relationship..
The perception that people have, specially in India/Asia is that the children suffer due to a divorce. I personally feel that they suffer more if they have to constantly deal with fighting parents and sometimes with the knowledge that the only reason their parents are continuing with their unhappy life is them...

anyway, do check out my blog at http://freedomnoodles.blogspot.com/ - its a commentary on daily happenings in India and the world, with a bit of a libertarian flavor...

Enough with the slamming of all divorce lawyers.

If anyone in Northern VA needs an excellent, and experienced, family lawyer, one who will attempt to reach a fair settlement and will be civil and courteous to all parties throughout, I give my highest recommendation to Kelly Hite, now located in Fairfax. Outstanding attorney.

Her fees were fair, and she was civil and respectful to my ex and her lawyer and to me throughout. (And she is not afraid to go to trial if necessary.)

It is easy to slam divorce attorneys and criminal defense attorneys, until, God forbid, you need one. If you do need one, I hope you find a good one. See "Three Cheers for Lawyers: Don't think a good defense attorney matters? Think again." by Randy Barnett, WSJ April 17, 2007
http://opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110009952

Mike wrote

Do you simply mean that their has been a historical correlation between the decline of domestic violence and the rise of divorce? Is their any actual evidence for causality? Is there any evidence that the reduced number of wives murdered by their husbands is anything beyond women simply being single more often and for a longer period in their earlier lives and, consequently, their potentially violent husbands' earlier lives also?

to answer your questions - yes. See Wolfers and Stevenson's February 2006 QJE paper, "Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law" which details the evidence to support the claims in Cowen's piece. The authors use state passings of unilateral divorce laws to identify the effect on the outcomes mentioned.

Hey Tyler:

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.

What's been the trend in male suicide and female-on-male murders? Just a minor issue of ommission here.

THIS abstract seemed pretty interesting.

I have read that in the US, married men are better off that single men. Does the research include single men in committed relationships: gay or straight, but not married? If marriage is so beneficial for men, why does it appear that there are more widowers than widows...at least in some parts of Florida and Arizona?

SJ

Steve - is it increased crime or increased scarcity of men that is causing the decreased marraige among Black women? See Charles and Luoh. Bruce Western argues that rising imprisonment is not being driven by rising crime rates, since among the least educated Black Americans, crime was falling as imprisonment was rising. Most observers argue the increased imprisonment is due to changes in federal and state prison policies - war on drugs, minimum sentencing, three strikes, etc.

I've always been interested in the mechanism by which people consider things like their state divorce laws (or other laws, particularly criminal laws, really). I doubt most people actually know these laws to any degree of specificity. And yet people act differently in different states in ways that usually seem to line up with the incentives those laws (of which they are unaware)would be expected to produce.

Its probably some nebulous understanding of what is or is not a good idea, based on the experiences of those around them. In law school, whenever someone mentioned that a particular law incentivized certain behavior, the immediate response from someone was always "but the public doesn't know the details of this obscure law anyways." It always seemed a poor response to me. Surely general cultural trends and attitudes respond to these laws over time. But its so hard to trace the actual cause and effect process.

Anon,

Since marriage already favours men and women in a marriage are often further hampered by children, is it not correct for the law to protect women with divorce laws that favour them?

Since marriage already favours men and women in a marriage are often further hampered by children, is it not correct for the law to protect women with divorce laws that favour them?

I think it is unlikely your assumption is correct, as women are thought more eager for marriage than men. But I could be wrong.

Perhaps we could protect women by threatening to hamper men with the children in the event of a divorce.

Make an automatic presumption that the father (based on DNA testing) has to bring up the children, and the woman merely has to provide child support.

Would this make you happier?

Daer To Whom It May Concern:

If males would take care of their responsibilities in the first place, we would not all be sufferingg from your selfishness and childishness!

Thanks!

Males have been riding on the backs of women since the beginning of time! It took centuries to even get a v and many women were beaten and abused to the point of death! You are pathetic!

Then it took centuries more to get males to pay monies for child support and do not get me started on all the other B. S. they put their wiv(es) or girlfriends and children through besides all that!

Women have been suffering hideous abuse and hideous crimes against them at the hands of the very males who are supposed to be protecting them! Some of you are not worth the oxygen you breathe!

You are the reason for women's suffrage and divorce and countless other issues in this world!

Thank you for allll that!!!!

Real leaders are selfless! He discusses a situation with his wife, not wiv(es), plural, he supposedly is supposed to have the final say, and they carry out the follow-through together.

Why don't you all be real men and step up to the plate in the first place and takce care of your families and we would not have to be in your stinking mess!

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Diane K. Krizan

Real leaders are selfless!

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