Partnership Dissolution in the UK – the Role of Economic Circumstances

AuthorRene Boheim, John Ermisch
Publication Date01 May 2001
Partnership dissolution in the UK ± the ro
of economic circumstancesy
ÂBÎheim and John Ermisch
Institute for Social and Economic Research (incorporating the ESRC Research
Centre on Micro-social Change), University of Essex
I. Introduction
Two decades have passed since the pioneering study on the economics of
marital instability by Becker, Landes and Michael (1977). Yet there have
been very few empirical studies of the in¯uence of economic circumstances
on marital dissolution since then. Notable exceptions are Hoffman and
Duncan (1995) and Weiss and Willis (1997), both of which allow for changes
in economic circumstances during the marriage to affect the risk of dissolu-
tion. The present paper follows in their footsteps, with particular attention to
the impact of `new information', as stressed by Weiss and Willis. Theirs was
the ®rst attempt to measure the impact of `surprises' on marital dissolution.
The data used in the present study contain measures of expectations of the
spouses' ®nancial situation. These expectations can be compared with the
spouses' perception of realised changes in ®nances during the same period to
generate a measure of surprises from the spouses' point of view. Ideally, we
would like to compare expectations at the beginning of marriage with
realisations afterwards, but our measure is for only one year ahead. While
poorer than Weiss and Willis's measure of surprises in this respect, they
cautioned that their measure `may not necessarily constitute surprises to the
observed spouses' (p S320). Our measure should more accurately re¯ect
surprises as viewed by each of the spouses.
The analysis focuses on couples with dependent children, including
#Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2001. Published byBlackwell Publishers, 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UKand 350
Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
yWe are grateful to the Economic and Social Research Council and the Department for Social
Security for ®nancial support for this research. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the
Royal Economic Society Annual Conference 1999 in Nottingham. Neither of these organisations is,
however,responsible for the views expressed in this paper. An earlier version has been circulated as
an ESRC Research Centre on Micro-Social Change Working Paper.

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