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You Can't Be Happier Than Your Wife: Happiness Gaps and Divorce

Cahit Guven (), Claudia Senik () and Holger Stichnoth ()

No 261, SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research from DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP)

Abstract: This paper asks whether the gap in subjective happiness between spouses matters per se, i.e. whether it predicts divorce. We use three panel databases 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 wellbeing inside couples. To our knowledge, this effect 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 which 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 separation. 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 over time raises the risk of separation. Second, we uncover an asymmetry in the effect of happiness gaps: couples are more likely to break-up 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, and importantly, by women who are unhappier than their husband. 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.

Keywords: Divorce; happiness; comparisons; panel; households; marriage (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: J12 D13 D63 D64 H31 I31 Z13 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 41 p.
Date: 2010
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-hap and nep-soc
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Citations: View citations in EconPapers (4) Track citations by RSS feed

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http://www.diw.de/documents/publikationen/73/diw_01.c.346299.de/diw_sp0261.pdf (application/pdf)

Related works:
Journal Article: You can’t be happier than your wife. Happiness gaps and divorce (2012) Downloads
Working Paper: You can't be happier than your wife. Happiness gaps and divorce (2012)
Working Paper: You can't be happier than your wife. Happiness gaps and divorce (2012)
Working Paper: You can't be happier than your wife. Happiness gaps and divorce (2012)
Working Paper: You can't be happier than your wife. Happiness Gaps and Divorce (2011) Downloads
Working Paper: You can't be happier than your wife. Happiness Gaps and Divorce (2011) Downloads
Working Paper: You can't be happier than your wife: happiness gaps and divorce (2010) Downloads
Working Paper: You can't be happier than your wife. Happiness gaps and divorce (2009) Downloads
Working Paper: You Can't Be Happier than Your Wife: Happiness Gaps and Divorce (2009) Downloads
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