The effect of same-sex marriage laws on different-sex marriage: Evidence from the Netherlands

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It has long been argued that the legalization of same-sex marriage would have a negative impact on marriage. My dissertation examines what happened to different-sex marriage in the Netherlands after the enactment of two laws: in 1998, a law that provided all couples with an institution almost identical to marriage—registered partnership, and in 2001, a law that legalized same-sex marriage for the first time in the world. The first chapter provides a brief description of the same-sex marriage debate and of the legal background in the Netherlands. In the second chapter, I analyze the marriage decision at the individual level. I construct a unique data set covering the period 1995-2005 by matching individuals from the Dutch Labor Force Survey with their marriage and residence history from official records. I estimate the first-marriage decision using a discrete-time hazard model with unobserved heterogeneity and I find that the marriage rate rose after the registered partnership law but fell after the same-sex marriage law.

In the third chapter, I study the evolution of the marriage rate in the aggregate. I construct a synthetic control for the Netherlands as a weighted average of OECD member countries over the period 1988-2005. A comparison of the marriage rates in the Netherlands and the synthetic control confirms the findings from the individual-level analysis: the different-sex marriage rate rose after the registered partnership law and then fell after the same-sex marriage law. I also conduct a placebo test that supports the validity of the results. Finally, I examine the evolution of the different-sex union (marriages and registered partnerships) rate and I find that the different-sex union rate returns to its long-term trend after the same-sex marriage law.

My results could be explained by the combination of two effects. First, couples may learn over time about registered partnership and gradually switch from marriage to the new institution. Second, the same-sex marriage law may have caused some couples to turn away from marriage.