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Social Approval and Teenage Childbearing

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  • Anandi Mani

    (Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University)

  • Charles H. Mullin

    (Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University)

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    Abstract

    We examine the phenomenon of "pockets of teenage illegitimacy" in a model of social approval, where attitudes to such illegitimacy are endogenously determined at a local community level. Both a woman's actual well-being and her community's perception of that well-being in each potential state - staying in school and early childbearing - impact her decisions. In particular, since individuals can better appreciate the successes and failures of those making similar choices as themselves, the accuracy of a community's perception of a woman's well-being increases in the fraction of her community who chose her state. With positive correlation in potential well-being across the two states, these imprecise community perceptions can lead to multiple steady states: Pockets of high/low illegitimacy emerge even though individuals do not, per se, derive utility from conformity. These pockets could be triggered off by public policy measures (such as AFDC), but also by exogenous "shocks" such as the urban middle class flight from the inner city - as suggested by Wilson (1987). A novel prediction of the model is that the lower the variability in potential well-being in the childbearing state, the more easily a community can become trapped in the high-illegitimacy steady state. So, programs such as EITC, which increase the variability in well-being among single mothers, may be more effective in reducing teenage illegitimacy, than traditional approaches, such as AFDC, which reduce this variability. Finally, these high-illegitimacy pockets may be more responsive to non-pecuniary measures such as integrated housing projects and mentors, which increase the diversity of a teenager's circle of social interaction, than individual financial incentives.

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    File URL: http://www.accessecon.com/pubs/VUECON/vu01-w03.pdf
    File Function: First version, 2001
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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Vanderbilt University Department of Economics in its series Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers with number 0103.

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    Date of creation: Feb 2001
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    Handle: RePEc:van:wpaper:0103

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    Web page: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/econ/wparchive/index.html

    Related research

    Keywords: Illegitimacy; welfare; education; social approval;

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    1. Bertrand, M. & Luttmer, E.F.P. & Mullainathan, S., 1998. "Network Effects and Welfare Cultures," Papers 201, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Public and International Affairs.
    2. Borjas, George J, 1995. "Ethnicity, Neighborhoods, and Human-Capital Externalities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(3), pages 365-90, June.
    3. Katz, Michael L & Shapiro, Carl, 1986. "Technology Adoption in the Presence of Network Externalities," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(4), pages 822-41, August.
    4. Thomas J. Nechyba, 2001. "Social Approval, Values, and AFDC: A Reexamination of the Illegitimacy Debate," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(3), pages 637-666, June.
    5. Bisin, Alberto & Verdier, Thierry, 1998. "On the cultural transmission of preferences for social status," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(1), pages 75-97, October.
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    7. Moffitt, Robert, 1983. "An Economic Model of Welfare Stigma," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(5), pages 1023-35, December.
    8. Heckman, James J & Honore, Bo E, 1990. "The Empirical Content of the Roy Model," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(5), pages 1121-49, September.
    9. Besley, Timothy & Coate, Stephen, 1992. "Understanding welfare stigma: Taxpayer resentment and statistical discrimination," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 48(2), pages 165-183, July.
    10. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1994. "A Theory of Conformity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 841-77, October.
    11. Hilary Williamson Hoynes, 1996. "Work, Welfare, and Family Structure: What Have We Learned?," NBER Working Papers 5644, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Piketty, Thomas, 1998. "Self-fulfilling beliefs about social status," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(1), pages 115-132, October.
    13. Benabou, Roland, 1993. "Workings of a City: Location, Education, and Production," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 108(3), pages 619-52, August.
    14. Akerlof, George A & Yellen, Janet L & Katz, Michael L, 1996. "An Analysis of Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing in the United States," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 111(2), pages 277-317, May.
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