Making Marriages Last: Trust is Good, But Credible Information Is Better

Rebecca Lynn Thornton, Hans Peter Kohler

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Economists have examined investments under uncertainty in a variety of contexts. Becker et al. applied the idea to marriage and divorce, suggesting that an increased likelihood of separation or divorce reduces the incentive for spouses to invest in marriage-specific assets. This theory has since been tested empirically by measuring changes in investments in marriage-specific capital. In high HIV-prevalence contexts, marriage can lead to significant risks through spousal behaviours. Yet, individuals cannot rely on their spouse to reveal their HIV status. Couples’ HIV testing and counselling can provide spouses with credible information about each other’s HIV status. Using random variation in participation in couples’ testing, this chapter documents that uncertainty about spouses’ HIV status contributes to divorce. Innovations, such as HIV couples’ testing and counselling—and, in the future, possibly rapid self-testing—that reduce this uncertainty can thus have profound impacts on marital behaviours and stability.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTowards Gender Equity in Development
EditorsSiwan Anderson, Lori Beaman, Jean-Philippe Platteau
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191868115
ISBN (Print)9780198829591
StatePublished - 2018


  • marriage
  • marriage-specific capital
  • HIV testing
  • spousal behaviour
  • divorce


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