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Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2020

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



In this thesis, I study how institutions that govern marriage can affect marital choices and economic decisionmaking within marriage. The institutions that I study encompass both formal institutions, like laws that govern family formation, or more informal ones, like customs mandating the amount and direction of transfers at marriage or the level of commitment within marriage. This thesis consists of three chapters, and each chapter tackles a specific research problem under the broad research agenda. In the first chapter of my thesis, I study how changes in divorce and property division laws affect the rates of marriage formation, marital sorting patterns, and decisions within marriage such as asset accumulation and divorce. Through the 1970s and 80s, many states in the United States enacted changes to their divorce and property division laws. While divorce laws changed from mutual consent to unilateral, property division laws in the event of divorce changed from title-based to equitable division, favoring the low-income earner in property settlements. From the high income earner’s point of view, equitable division acts as a tax on asset accumulation within marriage, reducing the incentive to marry. To quantify the effect of these legal changes, I embed a dynamic collective model of marriage with endogenous asset accumulation, labor supply and divorce into a frictionless marriage-matching model. I estimate the model using data from marriages under a mutual consent, equitable division regime and simulate behavior under other legal regimes. I find that equitable division laws reduce the rate of marriage, and account for 18% of the long-term decline in the rate of marriage in the United States. Moreover, consistent with the data, equitable division laws reduce the rates of asset accumulation, female labor force participation and divorce. Further, both unilateral divorce and equitable division laws lead to substantial losses in economic efficiency. In the second chapter of my thesis, I study the effect of norms governing marital transfers on intrahousehold allocation of resources, and the implications thereof on the nutritional outcomes of children. in India, which serves as the setting for the research in this chapter, daughters’ weddings are very expensive and severely constrain the household budget in poor families. In such households, saving for marriage expenses could crowd out resources for the purchase of food, thus affecting children’s nutritional outcomes. Consistent with this hypothesis, I find that the presence of an additional unmarried daughter is associated with a greater deterioration in children’s nutrition amongst caste groups that, by custom, are obligated to incur higher marriage expenses. Given that early childhood nutrition correlates with later life outcomes, high marriage expenses could adversely affect economic outcomes in adulthood. In the final chapter of my thesis, we (my co-author and thesis supervisor, Marcus Berliant, and I) study the role of commitment within marriage on the welfare properties of the marriage market equilibrium. We observe that the set of stable marriage matches is different depending on whether allocation within marriage is determined by binding agreements in the marriage market (BAMM) or by bargaining in marriage (BIM). With transferable utility, any stable matching is utilitarian efficient under BAMM, but not under BIM. Is it possible to implement the efficient matching under BIM? We show that if one side of the market is sufficiently sensitive relative to the other, if the more sensitive side can be ranked by sensitivity, and if their preferences are hierarchical, the top trading cycles algorithm results in an efficient matching.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Marcus Berliant

Committee Members

Nazmul Ahsan, Sanghmitra Gautam, Robert A. Pollak, Yongseok Shin,

Available for download on Sunday, April 10, 2022