You Can’t Be Happier than Your Wife - Happiness Gaps and Divorce

43 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2010

See all articles by Cahit Guven

Cahit Guven

Deakin University - School of Accounting, Economics and Finance

Claudia Senik

Paris School of Economics (PSE)

Holger Stichnoth

ZEW – Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research

Date Written: January 2010

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

JEL Classification: J12, D13, D63, D64, H31, I31, Z13

Suggested Citation

Guven, Cahit and Senik, Claudia and Stichnoth, Holger, You Can’t Be Happier than Your Wife - Happiness Gaps and Divorce (January 2010). SOEPpaper No. 261, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1540610 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1540610

Cahit Guven (Contact Author)

Deakin University - School of Accounting, Economics and Finance ( email )

221 Burwood Highway
Burwood, Victoria 3215
Australia

Claudia Senik

Paris School of Economics (PSE) ( email )

48 Boulevard Jourdan
Paris, 75014 75014
France

Holger Stichnoth

ZEW – Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research ( email )

P.O. Box 10 34 43
L 7,1
D-68034 Mannheim, 68034
Germany

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