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1Divorce is a key research topic in demography and a subject explored widely by other disciplines in the human and social sciences, including economics. This last discipline addresses divorce from various angles: family economics, as in the work of Becker (1981), the economics of law (Farmer and Tiefenthaler, 2001; Hiller and Recoules, 2013) and the economics of social policies (Aasve et al., 2007; Ananat and Michaels, 2008). The originality of our approach in the article “Covering the Costs of Divorce: the Role of the Family, the State and the Market” lies in its exploration of divorce from the standpoint of the economics of risk, showing that divorce can be considered as an economic risk defined by a probability of occurrence and a level of loss, which can give rise to different forms of coverage. Our approach can be criticized. Nevertheless, it has the merit of providing keys for articulating scattered discussions on divorce on the basis of concepts derived from economic analysis. This approach also nurtures debate in other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, as highlighted by the contributions to this issue.

2As pointed out in the introduction, divorce has a material effect on all members of the household concerned, women in particular. On the basis of these stylized facts, well documented in the literature, the article starts by identifying in a general manner, with no gender bias, the different types of costs resulting from a separation. We explore the various financial consequences of separations according to the specialization choices made during the union, underlining the gender-based nature of those choices. Our analysis also makes a distinction between costs of a purely private nature and social costs.

3In economics, identifying a risk calls for subsequent exploration of the methods of covering and preventing that risk. Applying this approach to divorce enables us to determine the consequences of separation, as well as the possible reasons for those consequences (notably specialization), and to review all the existing coverage instruments (more numerous for divorced couples than for couples having lived in consensual unions) and potential coverage instruments.

4From reading the contributions, it appears that our article opens up the way to more specific thinking on some of the instruments for covering the economic risks of divorce, on ways of preventing these risks, and on the distinction we make between the private and social costs of divorce.

5For example, Jeandidier’s commentary focuses on alimony, raising questions about the economic grounds for restricting alimony – in France at least – to married couples only. He shows that the economic analysis is unequivocal: there is no reason for limiting alimony to married couples once it has been demonstrated that marriage and consensual unions have the same effects on the employment trajectories of the partner specializing in domestic tasks.

6Another way of limiting the financial consequences of divorce (and, more broadly, of separations) consists in preparing for them ex ante rather than covering them ex post. A possible solution is to take out an insurance policy before the risk occurs, as mentioned by Fragonard, Gonzalez and Marc. But this remains largely exploratory, as we have already demonstrated (Bourreau-Dubois and Doriat-Duban, 2015). One way of preventing the risk, in the realm of public policy, is to promote gender equality in couples by introducing mechanisms that limit or discourage specialization during the union. Explored in the article, this point is taken up by Leroyer, who calls for the development of measures to encourage men to make an equal contribution to domestic and parenting tasks, and, in a more polemical and partisan manner, by Bessière and Gollac, who write that the gender-based specialization of tasks during the union is rooted in earlier life, notably during childhood socialization. Beyond the examination of the various coverage and prevention instruments, our analysis could be extended, as suggested by Laplante and as we state in our conclusion, by an international comparison to identify, in different countries, the respective roles of the actors potentially involved in divorce risk coverage.

7Lastly, our article underlines the social dimension of divorce costs, notably through the consequences of separation on children. Debate may thus shift towards the question of compensating individuals who have no control over the events affecting them, as suggested by Trannoy. The loss in well-being suffered by the children of separated parents could be covered through a principle of compensation, with coverage provided by the community (in opposition to the principle of responsibility, which would exclude parents from the social coverage of divorce costs). Martin, for his part, stresses the importance of pulling away from an overly pessimistic vision of the consequences of divorce for children (though without neglecting it) by pointing out that divorce may also generate positive effects. These effects are outside the scope of our analysis but they also deserve to be explored.

8The article “Covering the Costs of Divorce: the Role of the Family, the State and the Market” fulfils a double purpose. It proposes an original approach to divorce, seen as an economic risk that can be addressed by both prevention and coverage instruments. It also serves to stimulate supplementary or critical analysis from economists and from other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. The diverse range of discussions on divorce and on the ways of addressing divorce in a constantly changing society confirms the interest of a research field which remains largely to be explored.

Additional references

  • OnlineFarmer A., Tiefenthaler J., 2001, “Conflict in divorce disputes: The determinants of pretrial settlement”, International Review of Law and Economics, 21(2), pp. 157-180.
  • OnlineHiller V., Recoules M., 2013. “Changes in divorce patterns: Culture and the law”, International Review of Law and Economics, 34(C), pp. 77-87.
Uploaded on on 11/01/2017
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