Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: Divorce Laws and Family Distress

34 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2004

See all articles by Betsey Stevenson

Betsey Stevenson

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Justin Wolfers

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Economics; University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; The University of Sydney - Discipline of Economics; Brookings Institution - Economic Studies Program; Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute); Kiel Institute for the World Economy

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: December 2003

Abstract

Over the past thirty years changes in divorce law have significantly increased access to divorce. The different timing of divorce law reform across states provides a useful quasi-experiment with which to examine the effects of this change. We analyze state panel data to estimate changes in suicide, domestic violence, and spousal murder rates arising from the change in divorce law. Suicide rates are used as a quantifiable measure of wellbeing, albeit one that focuses on the extreme lower tail of the distribution. We find a large, statistically significant, and econometrically robust decline in the number of women committing suicide following the introduction of unilateral divorce. No significant effect is found for men. Domestic violence is analyzed using data on both family conflict resolution and intimate homicide rates. The results indicate a large decline in domestic violence for both men and women in states that adopted unilateral divorce. We find suggestive evidence that unilateral divorce led to a decline in females murdered by their partners, while the data revealed no discernible effects for men murdered. In sum, we find strong evidence that legal institutions have profound real effects on outcomes within families.

Suggested Citation

Stevenson, Betsey and Wolfers, Justin, Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: Divorce Laws and Family Distress (December 2003). NBER Working Paper No. w10175. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=481447

Betsey Stevenson

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Justin Wolfers (Contact Author)

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Economics ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://www.nber.org/~jwolfers

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HOME PAGE: http://www.nber.org/~jwolfers

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Kiel Institute for the World Economy ( email )

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Germany

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