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    The divorce rates in the United States vastly increased from 2.2 per thousand people in 1960 to 5.0 in 1985 (Friedberg, 608, 1998). This was a stable trend that has only started to decline in the 1990’s. Similarly, the state of Michigan witnessed a rise in the divorce rate in the 1960’s from 16, 656 divorces in 1960 to 29,934 divorces by 1970 (Population, MDCH, 2013). From 1970-1980, divorces in the state of Michigan continued to rise until peaking in 1980 with 45,047 divorces (Population, MDCH, 2013). However, the number of divorces in the state of Michigan post 1980 had decreased to an average of approximately 40,000 divorces per year (Population, MDCH, 2013). The state of Michigan’s divorce rates were parallel to the national divorce trends that indicated a significant increase from 1960- the mid 1980’s.

     

    .

    This high divorce rate questions whether the strength of traditional families is also declining as a result of such trends. Therefore, the cause(s) of the divorce rate spike will be examined in order to better understand the impacts of the overall traditional family structure in Untied States. In turn, the association between divorce rates and divorce law reforms may explain the trend. More specifically, no-fault or unilateral divorce laws have been liberalized since the 1960’s, which may explain the changes in the divorce rate. No fault-divorce and unilateral divorce are often used interchangeably. No-fault divorce is a divorce in which the termination of a marriage does not require a presentation of wrongdoing by either party (No Fault, 2014). Hence, no one is at “fault.” Unilateral divorce specifies that one person may choose to end a marriage; the marriage does not have to be agreed upon by both parties (No Fault, 2014). The figure below (Figure 1) displays the percentage of states with any type of unilateral divorce, broadly or narrowly defined, as stated in the statistic above.

    Untitled

     

    Figure 1 identified that ¾ of U.S. states implemented some form of divorce reform law in the years ranging from 1960-1990 (Friedberg, 608, 1998). In order to further analyze this potential correlation, four studies will be considered. Three quantitative studies, coupled with a review of family structure trends in the United States, will determine what has effected divorce rates as well as family structure trends in the last fifty years. In doing so, divorce rate predictions can be made about the future of family structure in the United States.

    Friedberg’s Findings

    First, Leora Friedberg addressed the tightening of the “divorce regime” by conducting a quantitative analysis. In the 1998 article, “Did Unilateral Divorce Raise Divorce Rates? Evidence from Panel Data,” Friedberg looked at the divorce law dispute by using a panel of state-level divorce rates (608, 1998). Initially, Friedberg recognized that theoretical and empirical research evidence was mixed over the no fault divorce uprising. At first, Friedberg found there is not a clear definition of divorce law (608, 1998). Some theorists measured separation requirements to qualify as unilateral divorce while others questioned whether divorce in states that retain fault grounds for property settlement were consider unilateral or not (Friedberg, 608, 1998). With this understanding about the variety of divorce law, Friedberg tested the different types of unilateral divorce. In doing so, Friedberg’s empirical work clarified her hypothesis that adopting any type of divorce law reform increased the divorce rates. As a result, Friedberg made final estimates of the impact on unilateral divorce and found evidence to support her hypothesis.

     By utilizing longitudinal data on state divorce rates covering all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Friedberg found that since 1970 and on, every state legalized some form of no fault grounds for divorce (Friedberg, 612, 1998). To be more specific, state of Michigan is briefly examined as an example. Since 1972, the state of Michigan implemented unilateral divorce with separation requirements and no fault settlement (Friedberg, 612, 1998). Michigan’s effects explained most of the patterns of divorce, which had previously been picked up by divorce law. The average divorce rate in Michigan, divorces per 1000 people, from 1968-1972 was 3.4 (Friedberg, 614, 1998). Moreover, from 1973-1977 the average divorce rate in Michigan increased to 4.9 (Friedberg, 614, 1998). Then, from 1978-1982, the average divorce rate in Michigan was 4.7 (Friedberg, 614, 1998). In other words, a significant increase occurred in the 1970’s, but by the early 1980’s, the divorce rate in Michigan saw a small decline. Lastly, there was a continuation of the rate decrease from 1983-1988, with the average divorce rate dropping to 4.3 (Friedberg, 614, 1998). For Michigan’s case, the divorce rate undoubtedly increased once no fault divorce law was implemented in 1972. Moreover, it was also evident that the national divorce rate would have been approximately 6% lower in 1988 if no type of unilateral divorce had been adopted in those states that switched to unilateral divorce after 1968 (Friedberg, 608, 1998). In addition, the state-panel data results showed that unobserved covariates, i.e. social attitudes, family size, etc., also attributed to the main determinants of divorce (Friedberg, 616, 1998). Thus, these results demonstrated how divorce law changes are not endogenous (Friedberg, 616, 1998). In quantitative analysis, endogeneity is found when there is a correlation in the variable and the error term (Wolfers, 2, 2003). In other words, the endogeneity problem may occur when social and cultural factors are omitted, like, for example, social attitudes about divorce. Accordingly, Freidberg found that the effect of unilateral divorce on divorce behavior was permanent (Friedberg, 608, 1998). Friedberg’s results exuded the fact that unilateral divorce made a substantial impact on the divorce rate.

    Overall, Friedberg concluded that unilateral divorce laws increased the divorce rate by nearly ten percent of the average over the entire sample period (4.6 divorces per 1,000 people) (608, 1998). Moreover, the findings exemplified that different separation requirements and property settlement rules in states with unilateral divorce affected the rate of termination differently (Friedberg, 626, 1998). The overall estimates discovered a strong influence of unilateral divorce law. Finally, Friedberg pointed out that other factors, i.e. unobserved covariates, in addition to unilateral and no fault divorce law, came into play with the increase in divorces in the United States as well.

    Wolfers’ Findings

    Next, in Justin Wolfer’s article, “Did Unilateral Divorce Laws Raise Divorce Rates? A Reconciliation and New Results,” the Coase Theorem was applied in order to analyze divorce laws as it is related to the divorce rate. Wolfers’ quantitative analysis suggested that shifting from consent divorce to no-fault unilateral divorce laws should not affect divorce rates (2, 2003). However, Wolfers yielded different conclusions than Friedberg regarding the effects of divorce law changes (2, 2003). Initially, Wolfers shared his concerns about endogeneity in Friedberg’s study. The endogeneity problem may occur when social and cultural factors are omitted, and Wolfers’ identified that there is “a failure to jointly consider both the political endogeneity of these divorce laws and the dynamic response of divorce rates to a shock to the political regime” (Wolfers, 2, 2003).

    With endogeniety awarness, Wolfers findings exposed how liberalized divorce laws did, in fact, caused a noticeable rise in divorce rates for about ten years; however, this increase was substantially reversed over the next decade (2, 2003). The increase explained very little regarding the rise in the divorce rate over the past half century. Why? Administrative data on the flow of new divorces and measures of the stock of divorcees from the census supported this conclusion and influenced this rate (2, 2003). According to Wolfers, Friedberg's results overstated the effect of the unilateral divorce laws on the divorce rate. For the first eight years after a state adopted unilateral divorce, the increase in the divorce rate was two-thirds the size of Friedberg's finding. However, Wolfers showed that after ten years, unilateral divorce had insignificant effects on the divorce rate; this contrasted with Friedberg's findings that the laws had a permanent effect on the divorce rate. Overall, Wolfers concluded in his analysis that generally the divorce law reform led to an immediate increase in the divorce rate that diminished over time.

    Kim and Oka’s study

    Dukpa Kim and Tatsushi Oka’s 2011 study entitled, “Divorce Law Reforms and Divorce Rates in the U.S.: An Interactive Fixed Effects Approach,” estimated the effects of unilateral divorce laws on divorce rates from a panel of state level divorce rates, similar to Friedberg’s analysis. In order to find such effects, Kim and Oka, like Wolfers, also used the interactive fixed effects model to address the issue of endogeneity. Kim and Oka explained that the endogeneity problem emerged when social and cultural factors were omitted, such as the stigma of divorce, religious belief, family size, female participation in the work force and contraceptive use (Kim and Oka, 8, 2011). Furthermore, other studies did not have data or appropriate proxy variables to feasibly measure these. As a result, Kim and Oka claimed that earlier studies did not fully control for this due to the association between cross-state observed heterogeneity and divorce laws reforms (Kim and Oka, 1, 2011). The previous methods were not flexible enough to capture factors varying across both time and state. Therefore, Kim and Oka also used the fixed effects approach in order to discuss several important factors which change across states and time, all of which may affect both divorce rates and reform.

    As a result, Kim and Oka established two main conclusions. The divorce law reforms in the U.S. contributed to statistically significant increases in the divorce rates, but the magnitude and duration of the increases are smaller than what are reported in an earlier study by Wolfers (2006) (Kim and Oka, 2, 2011). Second, the interactive fixed effects approach resolved conflicting results between Wolfers and recent empirical studies that “cast doubt on the robustness of his results” (Kim and Oka, 2, 2011). Since Kim and Oka argued that the model specifications employed in these studies does not fully control for the unobserved heterogeneity across states, they encouraged omitted variable bias whose direction depends on the weighting scheme (Kim and Oka, 2, 2011). In doing so, Kim and Oka’s findings revealed that while there are still some conflicting results, divorce laws reforms have an overall positive effect on divorce rates.

    Other Factors for Consideration: The Big Picture

    Lastly, David T. Ellwood and Christopher Jencks’ working paper series, “The Spread of Single-Parent Families in the United States Since 1960,” also contributed additional considerations that may contribute to the change in the divorce rate and, in turn, family structure in the United States. More specifically, Ellwood and Jencks looked at attitudes about divorce as well as other factors like educational attainment that may influence the divorce rate. Ellwood and Jencks used data from the National Health Statistics Report issued by the Center of Disease Control and the National Survey for Family Growth (2, 2004). Ellwood and Jencks referenced a specific report, “Fertility, Family Planning, and Reproductive Health of U.S. Women: Data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth” which presented national estimates of fertility, family planning, and reproductive health indicators among females 15-44 years of age in the United States in 2002 from Cycle 6 of the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) (Ellwood and Jencks, 7, 2004). This report’s primary methods for data collection and analysis included descriptive tables and in-person interviews of the household population 15-44 years of age in the United States between March 2002 and March 2003 (Chandra, et al 2005). In addition, the sample included 7,643 females and 4,928 males, with a primary focus on data from the female sample (Chandra, et al 2005). Similar to the quantitative studies that have been reviewed, Ellwood and Jencks utilized this data to exude how other factors, the unobserved attitudes and cultures found in the previous studies, heavily effected the divorce rate.

    First, Ellwood and Jencks found that the United States’ increase in divorce began in the early 1960’s, similar to the previous studies. The main finding elaborated that the increase attributed to women at all educational levels as well as the increase in non-marital childbearing, which was concentrated between the early 1960’s and early 1990’s, mainly affecting non-white women and white women without college degrees (2, 2004). Accordingly, Ellwood and Jencks explained such changes a product of changes in “sexual mores,” which reduced the role of sexual attraction and increased the importance of economic calculations in decisions about whether to marry (2, 2004). The increased importance of economic factors coincided with a decline in non-college men's ability to support a family and perhaps also with an increase in conflict over men and women's roles (2, 2004).

    Ellwood and Jencks also found that attitudes about divorce may contribute to the modification in family structure as well. The report also indicated there are distinct attitudes regarding marriage preferences (Chandra, et al). The two charts below (Figure 2 and 3) showed the percent distribution of females and males 15-44 years of age by responses to two specified statements, from 2006-2010 (Chandra, et al 2005). The first chart was prompted by a statement about divorce attitudes which states, “Divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can't seem to work out their marriage problems” (Chandra, et al 2005). Respondents were given six options for gaging attitudes about the statement prompt in which four are listed in the chart below. Figure 2 showed that both male and females in the United States disagreed with divorce as the best option for martial problems (Chandra, et al 2005). Therefore, Figure 2 exemplified that the majority of Americans agreed that divorce was not the only option when marital problems occur.

    The second chart (Figure 3) was prompted by this statement about marriage culture: “A young couple should not live together unless they are married” (Chandra, et al 2005). Overwhelmingly, male and females in the United States disagreed with this statement. Therefore, this showed that both genders accept cohabitation prior to marriage. Clearly, attitudes and culture have a significant impact on marriage, divorce, and there are signs that cohabitation prior to marriage is a growing trend as well.

    These attitudes and cultures are mixed regarding their support of the divorce rate. It seems as though public opinion would prefer marriage problems to be resolved instead of choosing divorce but that marriage and divorce may not occur as often since couples are finding cohabitation more popular. The data also indicated that the arguments from the three quantitative studies regarding unmeasurable covariates, i.e. social attitudes and cultures, and their effects on the divorce rate were more substantial than initially recognized. Therefore, it seems as though attitudes and the culture regarding marriage and divorce should be taken into account and held more accountable when considering the divorce rate trend in the United States in the past fifty years.

    Figure 2:

    "Divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can't seem to work out their marriage problems.''(Source: Special tabulation found in Chandra, et al 2005)

     

    Strongly agree

    Agree 

    Disagree 

    Strongly disagree

    Female    

    8.6%

    34.3%

    40.0%

    16.1%

    Male

    7.5%

    35.2%

    40.2%

    16.2%

    Figure 3:

    "A young couple should not live together unless they are married." (Source: Special tabulation by NCHS; found in Chandra, et al 2005)

     

    Strongly agree

    Agree 

    Disagree 

    Strongly disagree

    Female

    8.8%

     22.0% 

    50.3%

    18.0%

    Male

    8.0%

    20.0%

    55.9%

    14.9%

    NOTE: Percentages in the tables on "Marriage and cohabitation" do not add to 100 because the category, "Neither agree nor disagree," is not shown here (Chandra, et al 2005)).

    In sum, it is evident that there are other variables, as specified by Friedberg, and elaborated on by Wolfers, Kim, and Oka that impacted divorce rates. Moreover, Ellwood and Jencks determined that attitudes about divorce are changing. There are also other options and alternatives available for s well. Ellwood and Jencks conveyed that individuals in the United States consider their educational attainment as well as the economy before get married. In turn, this leads to marriage later in life, which also may impact the divorce rate as well. The New York Times also reported that the rapid rise in divorce during the 1970’s and 1980’s was an “anomaly” and also simultaneously occurred with the new feminist movement (Miller, 2014). This may also be a factor, associated with education attainment, which caused social and economic upheaval as it relates to beliefs and values about marriage and divorce. Today, in 2014, society has adapted and the divorce rate has continued to decline (Miller, 2014). Therefore, Ellwood and Jencks’s analysis about attitudes and culture surrounding marriage and divorce made it clear that there are several other factors that may affect the divorce rate trend, not just the impact of no fault unilateral divorce laws.

    What This Means

    The studies by Freidberg, Wolfers, Kim, and Oka agree that something did, in fact, change the divorce rate in the past fifty years. Moreover, Friedberg found, by using longitudinal divorce data and assembling a panel of state-level divorce rates, an overall strong influence of unilateral divorce (Friedberg, 626, 1998). According to Wolfers, Friedberg's results overstated the effect of the unilateral divorce laws on the divorce rate. Wolfers showed that after ten years, unilateral divorce had insignificant effects on the divorce rate (Wolfers, 2 2003). Kim and Oka found that the divorce law reforms in the U.S. contributed to statistically significant increases in the divorce rates, but the magnitude and duration of the increases were smaller than what are reported in an earlier study by Wolfers (2006) (Kim and Oka, 2, 2011). Therefore, Kim and Oka’s findings discovered that while there are still some conflicting results, divorce laws reforms have positive effects on divorce rates. (Kim and Oka, 2, 2011).

    It is also apparent that other factors, in addition to unilateral and no fault divorce law, impacted the increase in divorce in the United States too. Ellwood and Jencks conveyed that individuals in the United States considered their educational attainment, the economy, and cohabitation, before get married. In turn, this leads to marriage later in life, which also may have affected the divorce rate as well. Moreover, it is also obvious that attitudes about both cohabitation and the preference of finding solutions prior to divorce are important to U.S. residents as well. It is clear that there are several other factors that contributed to the divorce rate trend, thus alluding to the fact that no fault unilateral divorce laws are not the only rationale for the divorce rate increase.

     Moreover, by reviewing the new divorce rates in the state of Michigan from 2000-2012, there is a continuation of decline from 38,932 divorces in 2000 to 32, 892 divorces in 2012 (Population, MDCH, 2012). Therefore, the divorce rate in Michigan is not nearly as low as it was in the 1960’s, but a decrease in divorce seems to be trending. This drop may be attributed to the new, distinct attitudes and cultures about marriage and divorce people have which are more prominent in society today. Even more so, the New York Times reported that about 70% of marriages that began in the 1990’s  made it to their 15th anniversary (excluding those in which a spouse died); this is an increases from the 65% of couples who married in the 1970’s and 1980’s (Miller, 2014). In addition, those who married in the 2000s are, so far, divorcing at even lower rates as well (Miller, 2014). Accordingly, if current trends continue, nearly two-thirds of marriages will not include a divorce, according to data from Justin Wolfers, who wrote the previous study reviewed above.

                Overall, the quantitative studies have shown a high divorce rate from 1960-1990. Although the national divorce rate, including the state of Michigan’s rate, has been decreasing since then, indicators suggest that no fault unilateral divorce law has affected the divorce rate. Two out of the three studies confirmed evidence that no fault unilateral divorce laws did have an effect on the divorce rate. Wolfers’ study is one which found that no fault unilateral divorce had an overall insignificant effect on divorce rates. Therefore, in a comparison across all of the studies reviewed here, it seems to suggest that divorce law reform had some type of impact on divorce rates initially, although this correlation may be less relevant due to the decline in the U.S. divorce rates today. However, it is also important to note how other factors had a significant impact on the divorce rate as well, namely attitudes and culture surrounding marriage and divorce. Thus, further studies should explore and seek to incorporate the potential significance of these factors in order to continue the evaluation of the impact of no fault unilateral divorce law on the divorce rate in the 21st century.

    Work Cited

    Chandra A., Martinez G.M., Mosher W.D., Abma J.C., Jones J. “Fertility, Family Planning, and Reproductive Health of U.S. Women: Data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth.” National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 23(25). 2005.

    Ellwood, David T. and Jencks, Christopher. “The Spread of Single-Parent Families in the United States Since 1960,” (February 26, 2004). KSG Working Paper No. RWP04-008. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=517662 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.517662.

    Friedberg, Leora. “Did Unilateral Divorce Raise Divorce Rates? Evidence from Panel Data.”The American Economic Review, Vol. 88 No.3 (1998): 608-27.JSTOR. Web. 3 Nov. 2014. http://pricetheory.uchicago.edu/levitt/Papers/Friedberg1998.pdf>.

    Kim, Dukpa, and Tatsushi Oka. “Divorce Law Reforms and Divorce Rates in the U.S.: An Interactive Fixed Effects Approach.” The University of Chicago Booth, 7 July 2011. Web. 24 Nov. 2014. <http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/midwest.econometrics/papers/megdkim.pdf>.

    Miller, Claire Cain. “The Divorce Surge Is Over, but the Myth Lives On.” The New York Times. 2 Dec. 2014. Web. 4 Dec. 2014. <.">http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/12/02/upshot/the-divorce-surge-is-over-but-the-myth-lives-on.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=1&referrer=>.

    “No Fault Divorce Definition.” Legal Dictionary. Web. 25 Nov. 2014. <http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/No-fault divorce>.

    “Population, Births, Deaths, Marriages & Divorces by Year (All Ages, Infant, Neonatal, Postneonatal, Perinatal, Fetal, and Maternal), Marriages and Divorces, Michigan, 1900 – 2013.” Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH). 1 Jan. 2012. Web. 4 Dec. 2014. <.">http://www.mdch.state.mi.us/pha/osr/marriage/tab4.1.asp?Mtype=2>.

    Wolfers, Justin. "Did Unilateral Divorce Laws Raise Divorce Rates? A Reconciliation and New Results."National Bureau of Economic Research. 1 Jan. 2003. Web. 2 Nov. 2014. <.">http://www.nber.org/papers/w10014.pdf>.

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    The Michigan Policy Network is a student-led public education and research program to report and organize news and information about the political process surrounding Michigan state policy issues. It is run out of the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University, with participation by students from the College of Social Science, the College of Communication, and James Madison College. 

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    Jocelyn Cutean serves as Morality and Family policy correspondent for the Michigan Policy Network. She is a first-year student at Michigan State, majoring in Theatre and English. Jocelyn has experience working on the executive board of the Waterford Chapter Coalition for Youth. She has also piloted a grant funded city wide public service announcement entitled, "It Just Wasn't Worth It" which exposes the repercussions of driving while intoxicated. Jocelyn enjoys art of all forms, from writing to performance.