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Many Divorced Couples Could Be Better off If Stayed Married


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

Most people get divorced hoping to have a better life and find more happiness than they had in their marriage. However, a new national study by Iowa State University cautions such people, stating that in approximately one in four couples who divorce, the individuals involved might have been better off if stayed married.

Alex Zhylyevskyy, assistant professor of economics at Iowa State University, who authored the research, calls such situations "inefficient divorces." His study looked at the economic benefits of marriage from self-reported data which was gathered from nearly 4,000 couples who took part in the National Survey of Families and Households between the 1980s and early 2000s.

What Zhylyevskyy actually did was analyze what impact spousal cooperation, conflict, and divorce in marriage had on the happiness of the both partners. The ISU researcher tried to get a measure of how happy individuals could be in a particular marital state and analyze factors impacting that across couples. "I can use this model to look at relevant variables and see how changes might affect the incidence of cooperation, conflict, and divorce among married couples in the United States," Zhylyevskyy said. Among some measures that can be associated and quantified with this model is the incidence of cases in which divorced people could have been better off if they had remained married, he added.

Zhylyevskyy is one of the first economists who set to find out why some married couples have continuous disputes and problems but keep living together, whereas other spouses cooperate and the rest get divorced. The expert emphasized that the results of his research are model specific. During his investigation, he calculated the inefficiency of divorce given the characteristics of the married spouses, including their age, levels of education, race, income, etc., as they relate to satisfaction in marriage, separation and divorce. Researcher also analyzed variables which are controlled by the government, such as requirements of a separation period and enforcement of child support.

The results revealed that in case of elimination of separation period requirements, the conflict rate between married couples could be decreased by more than 9 percent of its baseline level and the divorce rate could be increased by 4 percent. Zhylyevskyy also came to the conclusion that excellent enforcement of child support may reduce the frequency of conflict by 2.7 percent and divorce by 21.2 percent. It also decreases the number of "inefficient" divorces.

Zhylyevskyy says that the longer separation periods are, the more are the chances for a higher divorce costs because one or both spouses may need to hire a lawyer for a longer period of time, and there could also be psychological trauma from being left in marital "limbo" for a longer period of time. However, the effects of the separation periods do not appear to be that strong, quite interesting is the policy of how effectively payments of child support are being enforced. In some US states a "deadbeat parent" is more likely to be caught and be forced to pay child support, while in other states that does not work that well. Therefore, the strength of child support enforcement affects what a person thinks about his/her divorce opportunities and may also affect bargaining between married couples.

Zhylyevskyy's model predicts that in case all child support payment rulings are being enforced, then the likelihood of an inefficient divorce will significantly decrease. The investigator suggested that the government could indirectly induce married or separated couples to reconcile their differences and try to work toward a more successful relationship. Inefficient outcomes are negative and are something that should be taken into consideration and avoided by all costs, he said. Zhylyevskyy's research did not directly look at the impact of spousal conflict and divorce on the kids, which, in his opinion, is an interesting topic to explore in future studies.

The findings of the study are published in the October, 2012 issue of the Journal of Labor Economics.

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