The Long Term Effects of the Divorce Revolution: Health, Wealth and Labor Supply

Kristin Mammen, Columbia University

During the “Divorce Revolution” of the late 1960s and early 1970s, a large number of states passed laws allowing for unilateral divorce, which made divorce easier by requiring the consent of only one spouse to dissolve a marriage. During the same period, the United States divorce rate doubled. This paper examines the effects of divorce law liberalization on the later-life well-being of those who were young adults when the laws were changing. Experiencing a law change at ages 16-25 increased labor supply and financial status at older ages for women, but is associated with poorer health. Men exposed to the law change as young adults also have higher financial status and poorer health later in life, but show no effect on their labor supply. The results suggest that the policy change affected long-term outcomes even for those who did not divorce, with one channel being increased labor supply for young women around the time of the reform.

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Presented in Session 41: Family and Aging