The Economics of Marriage Contracts

Joshua Pierson

Advisor: Peter T. Leeson, PhD, Department of Economics

Committee Members: Peter J. Boettke, Christopher J. Coyne

Buchanan Hall, #D135
March 29, 2018, 03:30 PM to 04:30 PM


This dissertation examines the economic causes and effects of changes in United States marriage law in the latter half of the twentieth century. It is composed of three papers which examine the causes of the no-fault divorce revolution and the effects of enforceable prenuptial agreements.

My first paper, entitled "Economic Origins of the No-Fault Divorce Revolution", explores the causes of the no-fault divorce revolution in the United States. The no-fault revolution made divorce substantially easier by removing the requirement that a couple desiring a divorce convince a judge that grounds for a divorce existed—after the no-fault revolution, couples could divorce merely by mutual consent. The paper examines two sets of influences that militated for change – efficiency-based influences and interest-group influences.

My second paper, entitled "Prenups", is an empirical investigation of the effect of prenuptial agreements on the divorce rate. Contrary to fears expressed when courts first began enforcing these agreements, my research shows that enforcing prenuptial agreements in fact lead to a substantial decline in the divorce rate.

Finally, my third paper, entitled "Does Enforcing Prenuptial Agreements Encourage Marriage?", is an empirical investigation of the effect of prenuptial agreements on the marriage rate. Using certificate data from the National Vital Statistics Service (NVSS) and data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), I find that adoption of the UPAA increased marriage rates by approximately one-tenth of a standard deviation, or about one marriage per thousand persons per year and that these gains were strongest among people in their 30s and those with less than a high school education.