In economic terms, Tim Harford argues in his book The Logic of Life that divorce is "a rational response to changed incentives" (women\’s ability to earn money outside the home) and both less marriage and less divorce are simply the result.

That\’s not quite how economic incentives work. If divorce is a rational response to changed incentives, such as that women are no longer financially reliant upon the man, then we would expect to see more divorce.

Yes, the same incentives will lead to fewer marriages in the first place and thus logically to fewer divorces. However, that\’s rather counting the wrong thing: it\’s the rate of divorce amongst those already married which is the important thing, for those not married cannot of course divorce.

So while we might indeed see fewer divorces (or less divorce, to carry on yesterday\’s grammar Nazi argument) in fact, amongst the relevant population we\’ll be seeing more.

5 thoughts on “Eh?”

  1. Surely Harford’s point is that this has happened over 30 years? – so initially, we saw rising divorce rates; more recently, we’ve seen falling divorce rates as the married population becomes increasingly made up of people who got married under the current set of incentives and of people who didn’t divorce as soon as the incentives changed…

  2. Divorce certainly is a response to changed incentives, but people always omit to mention what one of the chief incentives is. It used to be the case that breaking an oath solemnly made in front of witnesses would make you a social pariah.

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