The Effect of Divorce Laws on Fertility

Miriam Marcén, Héctor Bellido
Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain

It is well-known that total fertility rates of European countries have decreased over the last half of the twentieth century. This reality is reaching worrying levels for several European governments, because it is beginning to hamper the generational shift. Researchers have looked at several determinants of fertility such as female labour force participation, female earnings, welfare system, institutional determinants, and even religion. In this paper, we argue that the implementation of new divorce laws in several European countries has also an important role. During the second half of the twentieth century, most European countries introduced changes in divorce laws in order to simplify the requirements to obtain the divorce, simultaneously birth rate considerably fell. In our empirical analysis, we construct a panel for 18 European countries spanning from 1950 to 1988 using data from Eurostat to analyze the effect of changes in divorce laws on fertility rates. Our results suggest that the introduction of no fault unilateral divorce leads to lower fertility levels. These results are maintained when we use different measured of fertility and even after controlling for abortion laws. We further test whether divorce laws affect abortions finding a positive impact of divorce laws on abortions. Supplemental analysis suggests that there are differences in the short-run and long-run effects of the divorce law reforms considered in this analysis. Our findings imply that divorce laws effects should be considered when formulating policies that encouraging fertility.

View full paper