Our adopted home state may have a progressive reputation, owing chiefly to its principal city’s joie de vivre, but it’s also been woefully behind the times on certain political matters. The notorious Rockefeller drug laws, for example, are just now being scrapped, though vestiges seem certain to remain. And over three decades later than most of its neighbors, New York is finally within striking distance of adopting no-fault divorce.
This is a positive, as it means an end to the charade that couples must go through in order to split—telling lies to judges about abandonment or adultery, just so they can get on with their lives. But opponents insist that no-fault will turn the Empire State into a place where marital vows are treated no more seriously than scratch-off lottery tickets. Do the naysayers have a point? The historical data says no:
The data broadly indicate that divorce law reform led to an immediate spike in the divorce rate that dissipates over time. After a decade, no effect can be discerned. This basic insight is robust to a range of alternative interpretations of divorce laws. Further, it is consistent with census data on the ever-divorced population. More puzzling, certain estimates suggest that the divorce rate declined over the ensuing period.
This is exactly the sort of trend we would expect is drugs were legalized, by the way: There would be an initial spike in usage, followed by a steady decline as the experimental phase ends and people wise up to the downsides of the previously forbidden fruit. Over the long term, our species is surprisingly adept at figuring out which behaviors yield benefits, and which can only lead to ruin.