Abstract

We investigate the upward trend of divorce rates in West Germany since the middle of the 1930s by testing hypotheses on the changing socio-structural composition of marriage cohorts and on changes of the divorce behavior of different socio-structural subgroups. Hypotheses were derived by linking the parameters of three theoretical micro models that explain marital stability—the exchange, the investment, and the microeconomic model—to four societal processes: factors that foster self-reinforcing processes, the transmission of divorce risks across generations, changing gender roles, and the deinstitutionalization of marriage. Empirical analyses use data from the German Life History Study (GLHS) and are based on six West German marriage cohorts between 1936 and 2005. The increasing divorce rates could not be explained by compositional or behavioral effects. Alternative explanations of historical trends of divorce rates are discussed.

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