Divorce and the environment

 

Resource-inefficient lifestyles such as divorce?  Yu and Liu in Environmental impacts of divorce , published online Dec 5 2007 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA suggest that divorce increase the amount of resources devoted to housing and quantify such increase.

The point they make is simple: there are economies of scale in housing so that a person living in a large household consumes less resources than one living in a smaller one. Divorce increases the number of households and thereby the amount of resources housing uses up.

In the abstract, the authors use the expression “resource-inefficient lifestyles such as divorce“. I am perplexed: shouldn’t one evaluate the efficiency or inefficiency of a lifestyle taking into account, in addition to the resource used, also the benefit such use yields? Russ Roberts is outright critical in Not from the Onion:

The environmental impact of divorce? Are you kidding me? This is the cost of not understanding economics, not understanding trade-offs, not understanding the role of prices. The virtue of prices is that prices tell us what things cost. Some things are relatively cheap. Some are relatively expensive. Marriage is tough on cotton. When you marry, you tend to have kids. Kids tend to wear clothes and that means marriage is tough on cotton. But we don’t worry about that. We understand that the price of clothes discourages people from consuming too much clothing. And when clothing gets cheaper, as it has over the last 50 years, people buy more clothing as a result, use more cotton, devote more land to cotton farming and so on. That’s not a downside of marriage or having kids–people pay for the clothing they use. They take account of the cost when they decide to buy something. So when they do buy it or use it, that means that the benefits outweigh the costs. And that means that live IMPROVES and gets better, not worse when we use more of something.

In the case of water or electricity, if they’re subsidized, then yes, people ignore the full costs when they use more of those things, whether it’s because they’re divorced or simply because they want a warmer home or take a longer shower. The solution isn’t to decry divorce, it’s to fix the prices.”

We could fix prices with Pigouvian taxes as suggested in the Pigou club manifesto.

More on the topic: NPR podcast ‘Marketplace:’ Divorce, an Environmental Hazard?

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