Economics Working Papers

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A general hypothesis regarding the impact of permanent income levels and business cycle fluctuations on divorce rate at the state level in the United States is analyzed in the paper. Using data for 45 states over the 1978-2009 sample period, the paper shows that the higher the level of transitory income, the higher is the incidence of divorce. In other words, divorce is pro-cyclical. Why do divorce decrease during recession and increase during expansion? When an economy is in crisis and people’s incomes are low, the cost of divorce will prevent a couple from divorcing irrespective of the quality of their marriage. In this case, divorce is not an effective option. Extending this reasoning to the Great Recession of 2007-9, it can be argued that scarce employment opportunities and reductions in the value of martial assets had forced couples to remain together, notwithstanding marital difficulties. As the economy moved into a slow and moderate recovery beginning in mid-2009, this pent-up demand for divorce was released and the rates increased. That, in large part, is why divorce generally follow a ‘pro-cyclical’ course, fluctuating in sympathy with the economy.


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