Friday, October 05, 2007

No Efficient Number of Divorces

Stevenson and Wolfers continue with their assessment of marriage and divorce up to the point where economists and marriage advocates part company. S & W allow that married people are happier, healthier, and richer, but withhold judgment whether marriage is cause or effect. They ask

even if we isolate factors that create more or less divorce, these insights would only yield policy recommendations if coupled with an understanding of whether we currently have an efficient number of divorces, too many, or too few.

The concept of an "efficient number of divorces" is distasteful, at least, to marriage advocates. Even if we allow that sometimes divorce is the least of the available evils, it is still an evil. In thinking about the efficient number of divorces, Stevenson and Wolfers raise the analogy with the "churn" in the labor market. However, leaving a job can be a matter of indifference to the worker, as well as to the analyst looking down from on high. Not so, I think, with leaving a marriage.

Marriage changes people more than any other voluntary institution. Marriage and divorce are not just arrangements for material advantage. Every marriage carries the hope of building up husband, wife, their children, even their whole lineage. Every divorce is a social loss because it dashes that hope. Economists don't count the social costs of dashed hopes for personal and social upbuilding. But we can.

1 comment:

Marty said...

Economists can easily count the social cost of abandoned children -- which is why we hold mothers and fathers legally responsible for their children at every possible turn. Abandoning your child is a crime.

I think we should hold adults who plegde "til death do us part" to each other equally responsible for such a serious commitment.

Economists could count the cost of their broken promises if they wanted to... I'll bet they are nearly equal to the cost of preventing abandomnent and enforcing parental responsibility.