Does easy divorce lead to more assortative mating?

Maybe so, there is a new paper (pdf) on that question:

This paper investigates how the adoption of unilateral divorce affects the gains from marriage and who marries whom. Exploiting variation in the timing of adoption across the US states, I first show that unilateral divorce increases assortative matching among newlyweds. To explain the link between divorce laws and matching patterns, I specify an equilibrium model of household formation, labor supply, private and public consumption, and divorce over the life cycle. Matching decisions depend on the anticipated welfare from marriage and divorce. The model has two key features (consistent with the data). First, working spouses whose partners do not work accumulate relatively more human capital during their lifetime, a fact that improves their outside value of divorce. Second, divorcees cannot sustain cooperation in public goods expenditures (interpreted as children’s welfare), leading to inefficiencies that are mostly harmful to the top educated. Under unilateral divorce, the value of divorce becomes a credible threat that shifts the bargaining power in marriage, making both household production and marriage less attractive. This pushes the marriage market equilibrium towards more positive sorting in education and lower welfare, particularly for the highest educated. I estimate the model using data from households that form and live under the pre-reform mutual consent divorce regime. Using the estimates, I then introduce unilateral divorce and solve for the new equilibrium. I find sizable equilibrium effects. First, the correlation in spousal education increases and people, particularly educated females, become more likely to remain single. Second, the gains from marriage decrease for the least and the most educated. Lastly, the marital gains from acquiring a college or higher degree decreases for women and men under unilateral divorce. These results reflect previously overlooked consequences of reducing barriers to divorce.

That is from Ana Reynoso, a job candidate from Yale University.  These are my words, not hers, but I think of this as yet another way that elites selfishly have pushed for looser social and sexual and romantic norms, without much worrying about the resulting broader impact on inequality and lower earners and the less educated.


I don't think this really makes sense. First of all, if more people are single then they aren't mating assortatively. Second, if one spouse has to give up the opportunity to increase their human capital, the other spouse should just make up the present discounted value of the sacrifice each month when they settle their accounts so each party is always made whole. I guess community property laws make this more complicated, but with appropriate nuptual agreements not intractable. But of course the bigger problem is the substantial tax penalties of having marriages recognized by the government, I'm not sure how unrecognized marriages are reported, or if they think they differ from the relationships of cohabiting co-parents.

"First of all, if more people are single then they aren’t mating assortatively."

Yes, and those who aren't single can be mating ....

This is contrary to what economists say about employment markets with comprehensive protections that make terminating the employment relationship. Because it's more difficult for employers to fire mismatched candidates, they become more cautious and hypersensitive about vetting and selecting good matches. Economists argue that without employment termination protections, employers would be willing to take more chances and accept more risk of hiring candidates that might not work out if they know that they can end the experiment easily if it doesn't work out. The conclusion that easy divorce makes couples more vigilant about assortative mating is counterintuitive. If divorce is truly easy, then couples would be willing to experiment with a spouse that might be a high risk high reward proposition. The fact that they don't is indicative of the reality that even the progressive no-fault divorce regime has not been able to make ending a marriage a simple maneuver of little consequence, but rather has merely reallocated power & privilege in the relationship to the party with fewer assets & income by reducing the consequences for the "poorer" party to exit while guaranteeing a generous, indeed rewarding, payout that insulates from the consequences of breaking the contract. As a result, the weaker party of the marriage has no obligations to contribute or keep the contract and enjoys rewards in both cases whether the contract is fulfilled or not.

An interesting comparison between marriage and employment relationships. But it has to take into account that, at least among those who marry relatively young (probably reaching at least into the mid-20s), the decision whether to marry is seldom as cold blooded as the decision whether to hire.

I'm quite confident that "elites" (oligarchs) feel far more comfortable and safe in a society that lacks cohesion and as such they tirelessly work to tear down all sources of cohesion.

Social cohesion comes from the state, of course.

The "elites" and the State they control are busy hacking away at all forms of voluntary association.
“Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” Benito Mussolini.
That is the operational principle of Red China's elites. Of Red elites in the West, too.

File under "old news but packaged in language that Tyler Cowen can get away with linking."

The problem with Western Civilization is that women who should be pushing brooms are trying to fly them instead.

And I dropped my ice cream in the dirt, but I didn't want it anyway.

I think this paper is bogus. If assortative mating means whites marry whites, blacks marry blacks, then if divorce is more easy then people will remarry more often, which decreases the oddball white marries black marriage, statistically speaking, if you adjust for population aging. So it's really much ado about nothing. Due to globalization you should be getting less assortative mating, not more, but possibly remarriage is skewing this trend. That's my 10 second synopsis from the abstract, which is usually pretty accurate.

No, assortative mating means educated marry educated. Education can take a long time, so for some people it's not clear yet how educated their partner will be in the long run. And remarriages are probably much less "random" compared to first marriages, now that everyone is older and finished educating and settled in their social strata.

So if people are determined to marry non-randomly wrt education (assortative mating) then the more tries they have the better they'll do.

People's first marriage is already at an age after their final education level. Thus, divorces means bad allocation of resources.

Wow 10 seconds with the abstract and you can know it's bogus!

You must be very smart.

I am not sure whether this is an intended or unintended consequence of modern divorce laws, but they do tend to discourage any sharing of wealth, despite appearance to the contrary.

Lawyers punish people who behave in unapproved ways. For example if you park in the wrong place you are fined. If you drive dangerously by exceeding speed limits, you are fined. If you trade in addictive drugs you are fined (as well as other sanctions.) That way lawyers keep civilisation ordered and safe for the majority.

However if someone of low earning capacity marries someone of high earning capacity, and the marriage fails, then the high earner is punished, possibly in some cases even to a greater extent than a drug trafficker. This is often seen in celebrity divorces, and when reported in the press the majority of comments are against the transfer of wealth from the high earner to the low earner. The low earner is often referred to by abusive terms.

Therefore, despite majority opinion, high earners are discouraged from marrying low earners, just as traffickers are discouraged from their activities. Therefore there is legal pressure for social class and wealth distribution to remain concentrated amongst certain groups of people.

But when a high-earning drug trafficker meets with legal discouragement the state gets all the money and the patootie that divorces him gets nada. The state is always first in line.

Suppose the spouse manages to get the divorce case heard before sentencing for the real crime? Maybe the state could then do her for living off the earnings of crime?

There was some article of Megan McArdle, I think (and I may be misphrasing/oversimplifying), where she revised her earlier view that only absolute poverty and not inequality mattered, to one that said that inequality did matter somewhat because it blinded the elite to the social non-economic problems faced by the (relative) poor, whose voice in discourse it weakened.

Easy divorce is a form of evil that is contrary to the marital vow "for better or worse, till death do us part". It reduces the whole thing to a farce. Divorce should be difficult.

However I am not sure if divorce laws per se have contributed to assortative mating. A lot of other things have played a role. The rise of "Romance", the decline of "arranged marriages", decline of clans / castes, the rise of materialism and the "economic man", social security, among other things.

All these features of modernity have conspired to make assortative mating the norm. And it's in a way ironical. Because in the old world of castes and clans, men were more likely to marry someone less able or smart, than they are today.

How would "the decline in arranged marriages" result in more assortative mating? I thought arranged marriages were basically just your parents sorting for you. Lots of fables about the rich girl wanting to marry the poor guy but the parents object, etc.

That's not very accurate. Arranged marriages often transcended social class (atleast from the Indian experience) and definitely trascended individual tastes and interests.

With the rise of "romance" it is natural for men and women to marry people of their own kind, with very similar aptitude and interests

"and definitely trascended individual tastes and interests."

Transcended the individual interests of whom?

Assortative mating has been the norm for a very long time-- probably as long as there have been social classes. The fact that in the past women were less like to have their own income, and to attend college, masked this in actual statistics. But terms like "mesalliance", "Gold-digger" and "fortune hunter" testify to the fact that society tended to have a dim view of people marrying outside their social class.

Sorry...the previous comment wasn't intended as a reply.

Regarding your comment on inequality -

The rise of inequality is the inevitable consequence of the decline of blood-ties and castes. This culture of glorifying "merit" inevitably leads to assortative mating. A hundred years ago, a WASP man from Harvard would probably prefer a not-so-smart WASP lady resulting in a healthy transmission of his superior genes to his wife's offspring. Today the same guy probably marries a very smart Jew or an Indian who may be his classmate - thus creating high IQ enclaves, in a low IQ desert.

Another feature of modernity is ofcourse the rise of feminism and its contempt for physical beauty. Men no longer chase the prettiest women as they used to. This again has aggravated the problem of assortative mating, where high IQ men privilege brains over beauty in the partners they choose.

Damn this was a bad post. Feminism is about girl power and taking control of the means of production. It is not about being ugly. Most "ugly" chicks do not attract men idiot. Most feminist love to fuck like "weak women" and want to look good for the beta wimps they can control. In the past, stronger men did not look for weak women. That was considered degeneration. You know nothing about the past. You just fling shit up there and hope it sticks.

The modern economic man indeed is why "structure" is not as firm. We live in a society based on dopamine release, selfish individualism via the bourgeois and pleasure. That gets in the way of arrangements. Frankly, Engels warned the bourgeois of this in the 19th century. The capitalist system would not sustain the nuclear family as it developed. Indeed, by the 30's the party was over. Even the state stepping in and trying to goose the nuclear family was dead by 1970. Women had to work to keep the economy going to boost demand. Thus they have become more independent than ever along with technology to make their lives easier and more spare time. This has been horrible for the beta male. For the alpha, it doesn't matter. All women, including feminists worship them. Matter of fact, Alpha's love strong,feisty women to give them a challenge. Not a surprise in history alpha males and females go about each other. It is this weakness of the beta's were the MRA crap started and the emasculation of males become a joke by the 21st century.

Behind this really is the emasculation of the jewish male. That is the weakness. They were emasculated by the Arabs, they were emasculated by the Romans. Created quite a ugly complex they transferred onto indo-europeans.

"inequality did matter somewhat because it blinded the elite to the social non-economic problems faced by the (relative) poor"

I don't think it is inequality that is blinding the elite. That is a proximate cause. More fundamentally what's blinding the elite is the obsession with "merit". Where you gauge people by their smarts, or ability. So if the poor struggle, it's karmic in a way because they are just not smart enough.

In the old world, the smart and the not-so-smart mingled a lot more. Because the obsession with merit was less. And other factors like blood ties, racial ties, religious ties, brought the poor and the rich together in many forums.

Eg : On a Saturday evening today, would you rather spend your time with your very smart friend from college? Or with your dumb cousin who is visiting your city after many years? 100 years ago, people chose the latter out of a sense of familial obligation. Today they snub the cousin and choose the smart friend for socialization.

You may enjoy this post of Robin Hanson:

As Charles Murray says, the elites refuse to "preach what they practice"

The 'elites' had no problem with practicing the mass incarceration that Murray preached.

Is that an endorsement of Murray and mass incarceration? Poe's law?

"a job candidate from Yale University": why would I hire someone who chose to attend a university named in honour of a slave trader?

True, America does not have any university named after William Wilberforce.

Do remind me, where is the one named after him located in the UK?


"Yet another way elites..."

Where can I find a compendium of ways in which elites may have defrayed social cohesion? I'm interested in reading more; articles/links, book recommendations, etc.

- Jeff

"These are my words, not hers, but I think of this as yet another way that elites selfishly have pushed for looser social and sexual and romantic norms, without much worrying about the resulting broader impact on inequality and lower earners and the less educated..."

I'd be interested in seeing a semi-comprehensive list of these and a long-form essay on its implications for libertarianism and government paternalism. Institutions matter, yes.

"without much worrying about the resulting broader impact on inequality and lower earners and the less educated…"

As opposed to everything else the elites do, which are for the lower earners' well-being?

Why didn't her dissertation adviser suggest she write about facets of the economy? It's not as if sociologists and anthropologists do not study family relations.

Economics means household management. What is more economic than the marriage contract (and property)? And how likely are sociologists going to write something that casts a less than rosy view of easy divorce laws?

And how likely are sociologists going to write something that casts a less than rosy view of easy divorce laws?

Norval Glenn, Judith Wallerstein, and Mark Regnerus. (Though it is true that the first two are recently deceased and the third has been subject to professional harassment).

This dame is in the wrong department.

Lots of talk of "mating" but little talk of children. I think the author mistakes assortive pairing for assortive mating, two completely different results. This was my chief concern with legal recognition of same-sex marriage, that by including pairings that were explicitly biologically incapable of mating under the umbrella of "marriage," that we would even further erode the societal correlation between marriage and children.

I agree. I think the whole concept of "same-sex marriage" makes a nonsense of words. "Marriage" is defined as a "union between a man and a woman". Whereas there may be valid reasons why people of the same sex can enter into commitments similar to marriage that involve physical activities similar to conventional marriage, it isn't the same thing.

"Same-sex marriage" is like calling cricket "bat-tennis" - cricket and tennis are both games played with a ball, but they are different activities. The problem at the moment is that there is no word for "same-sex marriage" that differentiates it from conventional marriage, as do "cricket" and "tennis" differentiate the two ball games.

Read the Bible and list how many men are Monogamy.

Then list how many men are Polygyny (not Polygamy).

Assortive mating also has to do with ambition, status, and achievement. My first wife dumped me shortly after she was promoted from an engineering position into management. I just wasn't good enough for her after she became a manager.

I presume you meant to reply to Ray Lopez.

If the shoe fits, wear it.

But, it's ok if you asked her mother.

By the way, who was it who said:

"He reached across and locked the door"

This is really more assortative mating? My ideia is that, in the past, was extremely rare a women to marry a man from a lower social class; attending that there are roughly the same number of men and women, I have also many doubts that in the past there was many marriages between men of upper classes and women of lower classes (that will imply many upper class women and lower class men remaining single, but in the old days single people were, I think, more rare than today)

Define "many".

Take a look at the highly stratified traditional caste society of India. There, "many upper class women and lower class men" cannot obtain a spouse. Never mind what you "think" as you sit idly behind a keyboard. Go get the data. Hint: "in the old days" the Iberian peninsula had a lot more crowded convents and abbeys full of "single people" than it does today.

The Iberian peninsula also exported far more of its males to the New World than it did females between 1500 and c. 1800.

Ya got nuthin' but a non sequitur.

A lotta old Dem pols gonna be fulla sads 'cause o'dat. Tey'll hafta settle for BJs from 22 yr old girls.

Gonna kill ya t' hear "Gone to the Senate, ha ha ha!" Maybe you Dems should'a thought twice befoah murderin' the old morality. Y'all look so stupid. Y'all are the hypocrites who put the id into stupid.

I am pleased Ms. Reynoso used the term "unilateral divorce" (UD) instead of the misleading phrase "no-fault divorce".

Unilateral divorce is an accurate description (although "no fault" is a relevant descriptor in some jurisdictions as well since marital fault does not affect the merits determination of the property division and alimony and parenting), but " the pre-reform mutual consent divorce regime" is not a very accurate description of the pre-reform regime.

To Be Honest, I am not sure I agree with this correlation absolutely causation as the divorce laws mostly change in the early 1960s versus the 'assortative' mating really starts in the 1980s, (To be honest, I think the theory of assortative mating is exaggerated as throughout history there has been plenty of it but the modern education measurement does not make sense before 1970. For example George and Barbara Bush were assortative mating in late 1940s even though they are not by today standards. Of course the Bill & Hillary Clinton the obvious assortative mating today but there backgrounds are incredibly different.) And I believe there are two other larger contributors:

1) Late marriage...The reality of assortative mating is caused more people getting not getting married after 25 and even 30. Most people tend to form closer groups after 25 so they choose somebody more like them.)

2) The acceptance of pre-martial sex and birth control. People were forced into marriage by pregrancies before 1970 and they might have been in love but not right for marriage. (FYI I would suggest marrying by girlfriend at age 21 would have not been good.)

And anybody complaining about modern 'assortative mating' has to deal the fact the divorce rate is below 40% today versus almost 50% in late 1970s. So it appears the modern system works better than the marriage system of the 1960s and 1970s.

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