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American Economic Review: Vol. 96 No. 5 (December 2006)

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

Article Citation

Wolfers, Justin. 2006. "Did Unilateral Divorce Laws Raise Divorce Rates? A Reconciliation and New Results." American Economic Review, 96(5): 1802-1820.

DOI: 10.1257/aer.96.5.1802

Abstract

Applying the Coase Theorem to marital bargaining suggests that shifting from consent to unilateral divorce laws will not affect divorce rates. I show that existing evidence suggesting large effects of divorce laws on divorce rates reflect a failure to explicitly model the dynamic response of divorce rates to a shock to the legal regime. When accounting for these dynamics, I find that unilateral divorce spiked following the adoption of unilateral divorce laws, but that this rise largely reversed itself within a decade. Overall, these changes in family law explain very little of the rise in divorce over the past half-century. (JEL C78, J12)

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Wolfers, Justin


American Economic Review


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