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Did Unilateral Divorce Raise Divorce Rates? Evidence from Panel Data

Leora Friedberg

University of Virginia - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

American Economic Review, 1998

This paper revisits the evidence on the impact of unilateral divorce laws on divorce rates in the United States. Most states switched from requiring mutual consent to allowing unilateral or no-fault divorce between 1970 and 1985, while the national divorce rate more than doubled after 1965. According to the Coase theorem, however, the legal shift should have had no effect on divorce rates. Recent papers using cross-sectional micro data have disputed the empirical importance of unilateral divorce, disagreeing in particular about controls for state-level heterogeneity in divorce propensities. This paper uses a panel of state-level divorce rates which includes virtually every divorce in the U.S. over the entire period of the law changes. Adding comprehensive controls ? year and state fixed effects and state fixed trends ? for changing unobservable divorce propensities reveals that the divorce rate would have been about 6% lower if states had not switched to unilateral divorce, accounting for 17% of the increase in the divorce rate between 1968 and 1988. Additional results in this paper demonstrate that the type of unilateral divorce law that states adopted matters. Weaker versions of unilateral divorce, which retain elements of mutual divorce, raised the divorce rate significantly, but by less than the strongest versions of unilateral divorce did.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 25

JEL Classification: C78, K10

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Date posted: May 5, 1997  

Suggested Citation

Friedberg, Leora, Did Unilateral Divorce Raise Divorce Rates? Evidence from Panel Data. American Economic Review, 1998. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2207 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2207

Contact Information

Leora Friedberg (Contact Author)
University of Virginia (UVA) - Department of Economics ( email )
P.O. Box 400182
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4182
United States
804-924-3225 (Phone)
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
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References:  14
Citations:  64
Footnotes:  21

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