Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

When Every Relationship Is Above Average: Perceptions and Expectations of Divorce at the Time of Marriage

12 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2015  

Lynn A. Baker

University of Texas School of Law

Robert E. Emery

University of Virginia


A group of marriage license applicant and a group of law students were each surveyed about their knowledge of divorce statutes, knowledge of the demographics of divorce, and expectations for their own marriage. Both groups had largely incorrect perceptions of the legal terms of the marriage contract as embodied in divorce statutes, but they had relatively accurate, if sometimes optimistic, perceptions of both the likelihood and the effects of divorce in the population at large. Those same individuals expressed thoroughly idealistic expectations about both the longevity of their own marriages and the consequences should they personally be divorced. Increasing individuals' knowledge of divorce statutes through a course on family law did not diminish this unrealistic optimism. Both groups largely approved of the existing divorce statutes, although there was substantial agreement about a few important respects in which the laws should be changed. These findings suggest that the sense of unfairness and surprise that frequently attend divorce may be a result of systematic cognitive biases, particularly a representativeness bias, rather than of a lack of information about divorce.

Keywords: divorce, marriage, cognitive bias, representativeness bias

JEL Classification: K1, K10, K40

Suggested Citation

Baker, Lynn A. and Emery, Robert E., When Every Relationship Is Above Average: Perceptions and Expectations of Divorce at the Time of Marriage. 17 Law and Human Behavior 439 (1993); U of Texas Law, Public Law Research Paper; U of Texas Law, Law and Econ Research Paper. Available at SSRN:

Lynn Baker (Contact Author)

University of Texas School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States
512-232-1325 (Phone)
512-232-6011 (Fax)

Robert Emery

University of Virginia ( email )

Paper statistics

Abstract Views