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Libertad Gonzalez - Why should policymakers be concerned about divorce laws?

Libertad Gonzalez, associate professor of Economics at Universitat Pompeu Fabra and the Barcelona GSE, discusses why policymakers should be concerned about divorce laws.

I think it’s important for legislators to be aware of the research that has tried to document these effects, so that take into account not just the immediate direct effects but also the whole range of dimensions that will be affected. For example, for unilateral easy cheap divorce with no separation requirements, this has been shown to increase the divorce rate immediately for marriages that were already ongoing but in the longer term it may reduce marriage rates but actually increase the quality of marriages. Such that in the future, divorce rates may actually go down, perhaps fertility will fall as the result of unilateral divorce laws but if the marriages that are formed and decide to have children are of higher quality, perhaps child outcomes in the long term will actually improve.

There’s a whole range of other positions and outcomes that may be affected such as saving rates, the decision of single and married people how much to save. Also shown to be affected by divorce legislation is labor supply, as we discussed, particularly by women, and even social outcomes that are not so directly economic such as family conflict, even domestic violence and abuse has been shown to be affected by divorce laws. For example, some studies have found that countries that introduce unilateral divorce experience a drop in the rate of domestic violence among married couples, directly affected by the reform.

So, I guess the lesson here is that labor economics research can inform legislators about the whole range of potential effects that divorce legislation can have, not just on the obvious dimensions such as family formation and dissolution, but also labor market outcomes and a whole range of other outcomes such as long term outcomes for children for example.

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