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Women's labor market involvement and family income mobility when marriages end

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  • Katharine L. Bradbury
  • Jane Katz

Abstract

The last 30 years have seen a dramatic change in women's social and economic status in the United States, particularly in their labor market activity. When women were less involved and less successful in the labor market, many of them gained access to market income only or primarily through marriage or cohabitation with a working man. As a result, women and children were especially vulnerable to the death of a partner, separation, or divorce. ; In this article, the authors examine three decades of data on the relationship between women's labor market activity and the income mobility of families that lose a spouse through death, divorce, or separation. The authors find that wives' labor market activity acts as partial insurance for women and their families against the negative economic consequences of marital dissolution. However, the authors also find that while women who lose their husbands increase their earnings significantly, the number of upwardly mobile families is quite small, and a majority of families actually move down by the end of each decade. In addition, families that lose a wife to death, divorce, or separation do less well in successive decades, as the wives make increasingly larger contributions to family income. These findings imply that U.S. social and economic policies currently leave considerable gaps in "insurance" for families in the event of marital dissolution.

Suggested Citation

  • Katharine L. Bradbury & Jane Katz, 2002. "Women's labor market involvement and family income mobility when marriages end," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue Q 4, pages 41-74.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbne:y:2002:i:q4:p:41-74
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Greg J. Duncan & Saul D. Hoffman, 1985. "Economic Consequences of Marital Instability," NBER Chapters,in: Horizontal Equity, Uncertainty, and Economic Well-Being, pages 427-470 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Giovanni Olivei & Silvana Tenreyro, 2007. "The Timing of Monetary Policy Shocks," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(3), pages 636-663, June.
    2. Robert J. Gordon & Ian Dew-Becker, 2008. "Controversies about the Rise of American Inequality: A Survey," NBER Working Papers 13982, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Till van Treeck, 2012. "Did inequality cause the U.S. financial crisis?," IMK Working Paper 91-2012, IMK at the Hans Boeckler Foundation, Macroeconomic Policy Institute.
    4. repec:spr:scient:v:89:y:2011:i:3:d:10.1007_s11192-011-0487-6 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Pryor, Frederic L., 2007. "The anatomy of increasing inequality of U.S. family incomes," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 36(4), pages 595-618, August.
    6. Christopher Tamborini & Howard Iams & Gayle Reznik, 2012. "Women’s Earnings Before and After Marital Dissolution: Evidence from Longitudinal Earnings Records Matched to Survey Data," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 33(1), pages 69-82, March.
    7. Till Treeck, 2014. "Did Inequality Cause The U.S. Financial Crisis?," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 28(3), pages 421-448, July.
    8. Debra Shepherd, 2008. "Post-Apartheid Trends in Gender Discrimination in South Africa: Analysis through Decomposition Techniques," Working Papers 06/2008, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    9. Katharine L. Bradbury & Jane Katz, 2004. "Wives' work and family income mobility," Public Policy Discussion Paper 04-3, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    10. Robert Carroll & David Joulfaian & Mark Rider, 2006. "Income Mobility: The Recent American Experience," International Center for Public Policy Working Paper Series, at AYSPS, GSU paper0620, International Center for Public Policy, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.

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    Keywords

    Women - Employment;

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