The future environmental impact of divorce

Solveig Christiansen looks at the impact of changing divorce patterns on domestic energy use.

S. Christiansen

S. Christiansen


Earlier studies considering the effect of divorce on energy use have argued that as divorce increases the number of households (and decreases average household size), the rising prevalence of divorce increases domestic energy use [1]. These estimates, however, do not take into account that the childbearing patterns of those that divorce differ from those that do not. Divorce may affect family formation patterns through increasing spacing of children, greater celibacy levels, a later onset of childbearing, and lower childbearing ideals. This work aims to include this aspect in an assessment of the impact of changing divorce patterns on domestic energy use.

Data and Methodology

We computed a household forecast with alternative scenarios that differ only with respect to divorce rates, using data from the Danish household register. We considered a benchmark projection with transition rates that are constant across projection intervals and equal to the rates observed in the five-year period preceding the jump-off year. In addition we considered four scenarios with different assumptions about couple dissolution in the years to come, two with higher divorce and union dissolution rates and two with lower divorce and union dissolution rates. We then combined the projected household numbers with information about household energy patterns from the Danish consumer expenditure survey.

Results and Conclusions

Given the current pattern of fertility by household position of the mother, increasing levels of divorce and union dissolutions can have a depressing effect on domestic energy use in the long run. We find that after around 40 years, domestic energy use is lower in the scenarios with higher divorce and union dissolution rates than in the benchmark scenario, and vice versa. In the short run increasing levels of divorce and union dissolutions is likely to drive up domestic energy consumption by increasing the number of one person households. We argue that although in the short run the conclusions of [1], namely, that divorce escalates energy consumption, hold true, nevertheless, in the long run the potential fertility-depressing effect of divorce might be the dominant effect. 


[1] Yu E, Liu J (2007). Environmental impacts of divorce. PNAS 104, 20629–20634.


Solveig Christiansen, of the University of Oslo, Norway, is a Norwegian citizen. She was funded by IIASA's Norwegian National Member Organization and during the YSSP worked in the World Population (POP) Program.

Please note these Proceedings have received limited or no review from supervisors and IIASA program directors, and the views and results expressed therein do not necessarily represent IIASA, its National Member Organizations, or other organizations supporting the work.

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Last edited: 19 August 2015


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