Don’t get happier than your wifeISER External Seminars

This paper asks whether the subjective happiness gap between spouses matters per se, i.e. whether it predicts divorce. We use three panel databases in order to explore this question. Controlling for the level of life satisfaction of spouses, we find that a higher satisfaction gap, even in the first year of marriage, increases the likelihood of a future separation. We interpret this as the effect of comparisons of well-being between spouses, i.e. aversion to unequal sharing of well-being inside
couples. To our knowledge, this has never been taken into account by existing economic models of the household.
The relation between happiness gaps and divorce may be due to the fact that couples that are unable to transfer utility are more at risk than others. It may also be the case that assortative mating in terms of happiness baseline-level reduces the risk of divorce. However, we show that assortative mating is not the end of the story. First, our results hold in fixed-effects estimates that take away the effect of the initial quality of the match between spouses: Fixed-effects estimates suggest that a widening of the happiness gap through time raises the risk of divorce. Second, the British and the Australian data show that the effect of happiness gaps is asymmetric: marriages are more likely to break when the difference in life satisfaction is unfavourable to the wife. The information available in the Australian survey reveals that divorces are indeed predominantly initiated by women. Hence, happiness gaps seem to matter to spouses, not only because they reflect a mismatch in terms of baseline happiness, but because they matter as such.

Presented by:

Claudia Senik (Paris School of Economics)

Date & time:

30 Nov 2009 16:00 pm - 30 Nov 2009 17:30 pm

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