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Direct and Indirect Effects of Unilateral Divorce Law on Marital Stability

Abstract

Previous research examining the impact of unilateral divorce law (UDL) on the prevalence of divorce has provided mixed results. Studies based on cross-sectional cross-country/cross-state survey data have received criticism for disregarding unobserved heterogeneity across countries, as have studies using country-level panel data for failing to account for possible mediating mechanisms at the micro level. We seek to overcome both shortcomings by using individual-level event-history data from 11 European countries (SHARELIFE) and controlling for unobserved heterogeneity over countries and cohorts. We find that UDL in total increased the incidence of marital breakdown by about 20 %. This finding, however, neglects potential selection effects into marriage. Accordingly, the estimated effect of unilateral divorce laws becomes much larger when we control for age at marriage, which is used as indicator for match quality. Moreover, we find that UDL particularly affects marital stability in the presence of children.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For details on the SHARE data, see Börsch-Supan et al. (2013). Methodological issues of the SHARELIFE survey are addressed in Schröder (2011).

  2. 2.

    The analytic sample is restricted to respondents aged 50–90 with nonmissing information on all covariates. Time at risk is defined from marriage to divorce or censoring (interview, widowhood), from age 16 to first marriage or censoring, or from marriage to first child born in wedlock or censoring (interview, divorce, or death), respectively.

  3. 3.

    Technically, fixed effects enter into the model as country and cohort dummy variables, where cohorts are defined by year of birth. Country-specific trends are modeled as interaction terms of country dummy variables × cohort (linear) and country dummy variables × cohort (quadratic), respectively. This specification implies that countries never observed to change their divorce regime contribute to the estimation by affecting the specification of cohort effects.

  4. 4.

    For a detailed discussion on unilateral divorce in Europe, also see the results of an extensive expert survey among European family law researchers in Boele-Woelki et al. (2003, 2004) as well as the national reports of the European expert group on family law available online (http://www.ceflonline.net). The divorce law coding of Kneip and Bauer (2009) and González and Viitanen (2009) relies on these sources.

  5. 5.

    Mediator effects are obtained using the khb.ado Stata command, as described in Kohler et al. (2011). Because the KHB method cannot be used with Cox regression, we instead ran discrete-time models, which are technically logit models. The (generalized form of the) sickle function, which has been shown to be appropriate in the case of divorce (cf. Diekmann and Mitter 1983, 1984), was chosen as parameterization of the hazard rate. Obtained estimates are virtually identical to those from Cox regression (i.e., coefficients usually do not differ to the second decimal place).

  6. 6.

    We have focused on the transition to parenthood, which is likely to be the most crucial investment decision. Analyses on higher-order transitions (not shown) reveal that the negative UDL effect becomes even stronger with increasing parity. Moreover, transition rates to a second and third child decrease significantly under UDL even when we control for age at marriage.

  7. 7.

    Estimates of the UDL effect remain stable over all models from panel b when number of children is included as a measure of specific capital. The interaction effect of UDL and children slightly rises with increasing parity, with a pronounced jump in the presence of one child.

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Acknowledgments

This article uses data from SHARELIFE release 1, as of November 24, 2010; or SHARE release 2.5.0, as of May 24, 2011. The SHARE data collection has been primarily funded by the European Commission through the fifth framework program (project QLK6-CT-2001-00360 in the thematic program Quality of Life), through the sixth framework program (projects SHARE-I3, RII-CT- 2006-062193, COMPARE, CIT5-CT-2005-028857, and SHARELIFE, CIT4-CT-2006-028812), and through the seventh framework program (SHARE-PREP, 211909 and SHARE-LEAP, 227822). Additional funding from the U.S. National Institute on Aging (U01 AG09740-13S2, P01 AG005842, P01 AG08291, P30 AG12815, Y1-AG-4553-01 and OGHA 04-064, IAG BSR06-11, R21 AG025169), as well as from various national sources, is gratefully acknowledged (see http://www.share-project.org for a full list of funding institutions). We thank Henning Best, Martina Brandt, Josef Brüderl, Tabea Bucher-Koenen, Andrew Cherlin, and Stefania Marcassa for valuable comments.

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Correspondence to Thorsten Kneip.

Appendix

Appendix

Table 6 Testing mediator effects using the KHB method

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Kneip, T., Bauer, G. & Reinhold, S. Direct and Indirect Effects of Unilateral Divorce Law on Marital Stability. Demography 51, 2103–2126 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-014-0337-2

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Keywords

  • Divorce
  • Family law
  • Family economics
  • Survival analysis