Divorce Rates and Bankruptcy Exemption Levels in the U.S.

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1 Divorce Rates and Bankruptcy Exemption Levels in the U.S. Je Traczynski University of Wisconsin-Madison December 3, 2010

2 Motivation Marriage oers an individual insurance against negative income or asset value shocks through income sharing between partners Bankruptcy also oers an individual protection against the same negative income and asset shocks If bankruptcy laws become more generous to debtors as measured by an increase in bankruptcy exemption levels, this should lead to a higher divorce rate as the income protection oered by marriage is replaced by that oered by bankruptcy laws

3 Preview of Results I measure the generousity of bankruptcy laws using bankruptcy exemptions, the value of assets an individual may keep after declaring bankruptcy I construct a panel from across U.S. of divorce rates and exemption levels with identication of eect of exemptions coming from changes within states over time I nd that increases in bankruptcy exemption levels resulted in over 200,000 additional divorces over this period This eect is quantitatively similar to that estimated for the introduction of unilateral divorce laws, though the eect of bankruptcy exemption levels is increasing over time while the persistent eect of unilateral divorce laws is estimated to be nearly zero (Wolfers, 2006)

4 Bankruptcy Exemptions Homestead: for one's home or housing equity Nonhome: combination of personal property exemptions, including tools of trade, cars, bank deposits, and other household goods Other exemptions include burial plots, clothing, certain types of insurance policies, and pets Hynes et al. (2004) nds that the only robust predictor of exemption levels... was historic levels of exemptions I therefore treat changes in state exemption levels as exogenous with respect to state divorce rates

5 Data State divorce rates: Vital Statistics of the United States, State bankruptcy exemption levels: from state statutes Married population estimated using March CPS Other variables: real personal income (BLS), state unemployment rate (BLS), real state median house price (Census, FHFA), state demographics (Census), max real AFDC/TANF payment (Green Book), max real EITC payment (NBER TAXSIM, Brookings) All real variables, including exemption levels, are adjusted into 2007 dollars using CPI

6 Federal Divorce Rate Federal Divorce Rate Divorce Rate Year Divorce Rate per 1000 total population Divorce Rate per 1000 married persons

7 State Exemption Levels

8 Empirical Approach divrate it = α + δ TotalEx it + κ (TotalEx it ) 2 + π X it + µ t + η i + ζ i Trend + ξ i Trend 2 + ɛ it with variables dened as: divrate Divorce Rate per 1000 married population TotalEx Real value of homestead plus nonhome exemptions X Other control variables µ Year xed eect η State xed eect Trend State-specic time trend

9 Controls States with unlimited household exemption: AR, FL, IA, KS, OK, SD, TX, plus DC and MN for part of sample Value of homestead exemption is set to $500,000 (in nominal terms) for states with unlimited homestead (Berkowitz and Hynes, 1999) Use exemptions as applicable to married couples in each state Exemption variable reects fungibility between exemption categories and the possibility of pre-bankruptcy planning by debtors

10 Estimation & Identication Use WLS (weighted by married population) for estimation to make results t largest states most closely Estimate over two samples: rst using only states with dened homestead exemptions, then using full sample Inclusion of state xed eect controls for dierences across states in bankruptcy exemption levels and divorce statutes, so identication of bankruptcy eects comes from variation within states over time

11 Divorce Rates - Dened Homestead States Indep. Variable Indep. Variable Total Exemption ** Percent Age * (0.0210) (2.291) Total Exemption ** Child Custody Guidelines ( ) (0.251) Real Personal Income No Fault Maintenance (0.886) (0.0829) Unemployment Rate Covenant Marriage *** (0.0665) (0.166) Real Median House Price Real Max AFDC/TANF Payment (0.0496) ( ) Homeownership Rate * Real Max EITC Payment (2.027) ( ) Percent Hispanic *** Constant (15.96) (5.394) Percent Black (20.04) Homestead Exemption Dened State Linear and Quadratic Trends Yes Number of obs. 674 R State Dummies Yes Regression Type WLS

12 Divorce Rates - All States Indep. Variable Indep. Variable Total Exemption ** Percent Age ** (0.0205) (2.146) Total Exemption ** Child Custody Guidelines ( ) (0.259) Real Personal Income No Fault Maintenance (0.758) (0.107) Unemployment Rate Covenant Marriage (0.0618) (0.292) Real Median House Price Real Max AFDC/TANF Payment (0.0499) ( ) Homeownership Rate ** Real Max EITC Payment (1.924) ( ) Percent Hispanic ** Constant 12.49** (16.50) (5.246) Percent Black (23.32) Homestead Exemption All State Linear and Quadratic Trends Yes Number of obs. 801 R State Dummies Yes Regression Type WLS

13 Discussion All regressions nd same qualitative result: as exemption levels increase, the divorce rate does as well Coecients on both exemption terms are jointly signicant across specications How should we interpret these coecient estimates?

14 Divorce Rate Increases - All States Year Mean Total Exemption Divorce Rate Increase Additional Divorces 1989 $106, $108, $117, , $121, , $125, , $126, , $133, , $133, , $134, , $134, , $135, , $134, , $140, , $147, , $150, , $151, , $160, ,133 Total 208,637

15 Robustness Analysis Increases in exemption levels lead to increases in divorce rates checking for: community property laws unilateral divorce laws dened vs. unlimited homestead exemption states pre/post-bankruptcy Reform Act of 1994 Eects on divorce do not appear to be coming through increasing numbers of marginal marriages Changes in exemption levels do not have statistically signicant eect on marriage rates

16 Conclusion Increases in bankruptcy exemption levels lead to increases in divorce rate Changes in relative insurance level oered by marriage vs. single life Cumulative eect of exemption increases over sample period is to raise divorce rate per 1000 married persons approximately percentage points, a 2.37% increase over its 2005 level Over the sample, the most conservative estimated increases in the divorce rate imply over 200,000 additional divorces occurred due to increases in exemptions

U.S. Jerey Traczynski. October 6, 2010. University of Wisconsin-Madison. Department of Economics. Oce: 7310 Social Science. Oce Phone: (608) 263-2327

U.S. Jerey Traczynski. October 6, 2010. University of Wisconsin-Madison. Department of Economics. Oce: 7310 Social Science. Oce Phone: (608) 263-2327 Divorce Rates and Bankruptcy Exemption Levels in the U.S. Jerey Traczynski October 6, 2010 University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Economics Oce: 7310 Social Science Oce Phone: (608) 263-2327 E-mail:

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