Working Paper BETA #2015-30

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Title : Is there justification for alimony payments? A survey of the empirical literature.

Author(s) : Bruno Jeandidier, Helen Lim

Abstract : The French civil code relating to divorce makes reference to the economics of marriage in specifying that in fixing alimony payments, judges should take into account the professional choices made by each spouse during the marriage for the sake of the union or for the children. According to the theory, traditional gender role specialisation results in men accumulating market human capital whilst women accumulate family-oriented human capital. Wage data in many countries indeed indicates that men tend to enjoy a marriage wage premium whilst women suffer a wage penalty. A corollary of this is that in the event of divorce, men are not penalised financially whereas women are. This paper analyses the empirical justification for alimony payments. An extensive review of the literature suggests that part of the premium observed for men is explained by a selection effect, and possibly other factors such as the effect of responsibility, or employer bias. In the case of women, it is motherhood and not marriage per se that has a clearly negative impact on wages.

Key-words : Family wage gap, marriage, divorce, compensatory alimony payment.

JEL Classification : J12, J16, J31, K36.