Institute Working Paper 27

Improving Child Welfare in Middle Income Countries: The Unintended Consequence of a Pro-Homemaker Divorce Law and Wait Time to Divorce

Misty L. Heggeness | U.S. Census Bureau and Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

Published October 11, 2019

This study identifies the impact of access to and the speed of divorce on the welfare of children in a middle income largely Catholic country. Using difference-in-difference estimation techniques, I compare school enrollment for children of married and cohabiting parent households before and after the legalization of divorce. Implementing pro-homemaker divorce laws increased school enrollment anywhere from 3.4 to 5.5 percentage points, and the effect was particularly salient on secondary school students. I provide evidence that administrative processes influencing the speed of divorce affect household bargaining and investments in schooling. With every additional six months wait to the finalization of divorce, school enrollment decreased by approximately one percentage point. The impact almost doubles for secondary schooling. When contemplating development policies, advocates, policymakers, and leaders should not overlook the impact changes in family policies and administrative processes can have on advancements in child welfare and, ultimately, economic development.

Institute Working Paper DOI:

Published in Journal of Development Economics, March 2020, Vol. 143,

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