Recession divorce paper preview

8:30 AM, Thursday, May 3: Be at the first session of the Population Association of American conference to hear me present, “Divorce and the Recession, 2008-2010” (and three other interesting papers on the how the recession has affected families).

The presentation version of my paper is now available as a Maryland Population Research Center Working Paper. Here are a few highlights and additions.

This analysis supersedes some of my earlier musings about divorce fluctuations, which have been quite inconsistent (here’s the whole series). I once reported a positive relationship between rising unemployment and rising divorce rates — but no increase in Google searches on divorce. But then my Google method turned up what looked like an increase in divorce-related searching — by which point I was skeptical that there was in fact dominant effect of the recession that is discernible in the short run. And now I don’t see an unemployment pattern to speak of.

The conference paper is the most I can do with what we now have — big-sample data from 2008-2010. As I noted before, there is a drop in divorce rates from 2008 to 2010, but that hides a rebound from 2009 to 2010; that pattern holds when individuals factors are controlled. In the context of a long-run decline in divorce rates, I don’t make much of that. At the state level, this my story:

After establishing an individual level model predicting women’s divorce, I test whether unemployment and foreclosures are associated with the odds of divorce, and for whom. Results show that foreclosure rates are positively associated with the odds of divorce, but only for those with more than a high school education. State unemployment rates show no effect on odds of divorce. I also test the effect of state laws delaying divorce, and find they have an increasingly negative effect of the three-year period, suggesting a backlog of new divorces during the recession.

The interpretation of those state law patterns — a late addition to the paper — is up for discussion. Anyway, here’s the figure showing the foreclosure pattern by education level, from a model that controls for individual characteristics and state fixed effects:

Maybe this means marriages in which people are more likely to own homes are more at risk of real estate shocks, but that’s pretty indirect. There might be a fancy way to work that out, with a prediction model for which of these divorced people probably owned a home before divorce (be my guest!).

Those state patterns are built on an individual model shown in this figure. Bars that point left show negative effects on divorce odds, bars that point right are for increased risks.

None of these patterns are surprising given past research, but it’s very nice to have recent big-data estimates as new benchmarks.

Finally, I updated the Google analysis, because I couldn’t resist. The trend for a basic “divorce” search, which I used previously, was seriously diverted by the something called “the Kardashian event” in October 2011. How much did this mess up the data? This much:

Partly for that reason, this time I stuck with lawyer searches: “divorce lawyer,” “divorce attorney,” and “family law attorney,” which are all pretty well correlated over time. This is the trend (dates on the x-axis appear at the end of each year):

I could interpret this as consistent with the divorce/recession lull-rebound hypothesis, but time will tell. It doesn’t fit well from 2004 to 2008, since divorce rates were probably falling during most of that time. Still, that’s a pretty rapid rise at the end. If there isn’t an increase in divorce in 2011/2012, remind me to report that this method didn’t work.

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