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The economics of the marriage contract: theories and evidence

Matouschek, N.; Rasul, I.; (2008) The economics of the marriage contract: theories and evidence. The Journal of Law and Economics , 51 (1) pp. 59-110. 10.1086/588596. Green open access


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We analyze the role of the marriage contract. We first formalize three prominent hypotheses on why people marry: marriage provides an exogenous payoff to married partners, it serves as a commitment device, and it serves as a signaling device. For each theory we analyze how a reduction in the costs of divorce affects the propensity to divorce for couples at any given duration of marriage. We then use individual marriage and divorce certificate data from the United States to bring these alternative views of the marriage contract to bear on the data. We exploit variations in the timing of the adoption of unilateral divorce laws across states to proxy a one‐off and permanent reduction in divorce costs. The results suggest that the dominant reason that couples enter into a marriage contract is that it serves as a commitment device.

Type: Article
Title: The economics of the marriage contract: theories and evidence
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1086/588596
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/588596
Language: English
Additional information: © 2008 by University of Chicago Press
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Dept of Economics
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/17101
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