Research Handbook on the Economics of Family Law
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Research Handbook on the Economics of Family Law

Edited by Lloyd R. Cohen and Joshua D. Wright

The Research Handbook on the Economics of Family Law gives us a series of original essays by distinguished scholars in economics, law or both. The essays represent a variety of approaches to the field. Many contain extensive surveys of the literature with respect to the particular question they address. Some employ empirical economics, others are more narrowly legal. They have in common one thing: each scholar employs a core economic tool or insight to shed light on some aspect of family law and social institutions broadly understood. Topics covered include: divorce, child support, infant feeding, abortion access, prostitution, the decline in marriage, birth control and incentives for partnering.
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Chapter 4: Trends in Marital Stability

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers


* Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers 1. INTRODUCTION This chapter documents trends in marital stability over recent decades. Our assessment is motivated by a desire to update earlier analyses with the latest data, as well as an attempt to reconcile apparently conflicting results. The reconciliation points to an unequivocal increase in marital stability since the 1970s. Stevenson and Wolfers (2007) analyzed retrospective marital histories from the 2001 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), finding that first marriages occurring in each decade since the 1970s have been less likely to end in divorce than marriages begun in the preceding decade. This analysis (as originally published) is presented in Figure 4.1. The finding of a lower likelihood of divorce among those who married in recent decades appears to hold irrespective of how many years into these marriages one assesses the cumulative divorce rate. The U.S. Census Bureau (2005) also analyzed these data and their analysis of the survival of first marriages at each anniversary (a function of both divorce and death), reproduced as Table 4.1, points to a similar trend of more stable marriages among those who wed in recent decades. More recently released marital history data from the 2004 SIPP has been analyzed by the U.S. Census Bureau (2007a). In contrast to what was previously found, their tables suggest that there has been a recent rise in marital instability for marriages of all durations and that both first and second marriages since the mid-1970s were less likely to survive to celebrate...

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