NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Marriage and Divorce: Changes and their Driving Forces

Betsey Stevenson, Justin Wolfers

NBER Working Paper No. 12944
Issued in March 2007
NBER Program(s):   AG   CH   DAE   LE   LS

We document key facts about marriage and divorce, comparing trends through the past 150 years and outcomes across demographic groups and countries. While divorce rates have risen over the past 150 years, they have been falling for the past quarter century. Marriage rates have also been falling, but more strikingly, the importance of marriage at different points in the life cycle has changed, reflecting rising age at first marriage, rising divorce followed by high remarriage rates, and a combination of increased longevity with a declining age gap between husbands and wives. Cohabitation has also become increasingly important, emerging as a widely used step on the path to marriage. Out-of-wedlock fertility has also risen, consistent with declining "shotgun marriages". Compared with other countries, marriage maintains a central role in American life. We present evidence on some of the driving forces causing these changes in the marriage market: the rise of the birth control pill and women's control over their own fertility; sharp changes in wage structure, including a rise in inequality and partial closing of the gender wage gap; dramatic changes in home production technologies; and the emergence of the internet as a new matching technology. We note that recent changes in family forms demand a reassessment of theories of the family and argue that consumption complementarities may be an increasingly important component of marriage. Finally, we discuss the welfare implications of these changes.

download in pdf format
   (181 K)

email paper

A non-technical summary of this paper is available in the November 2007 NBER digest.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Digest by email.

The NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health provides summaries of publications like this.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

This paper is available as PDF (181 K) or via email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12944

Published: Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2007. "Marriage and Divorce: Changes and their Driving Forces," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 27-52, Spring. citation courtesy of

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Stevenson and Wolfers w10175 Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: Divorce Laws and Family Distress
Lundberg and Pollak w12908 The American Family and Family Economics
Stevenson and Wolfers w14969 The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness
Friedberg w6398 Did Unilateral Divorce Raise Divorce Rates? Evidence from Panel Data
Gruber w7968 Is Making Divorce Easier Bad for Children? The Long Run Implications of Unilateral Divorce
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Data
People
About

Support
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us