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Do Marital Prospects Dissuade Unmarried Fertility?


  • John Kennes

    () (Department of Economics and Business, Aarhus University)

  • John Knowles

    (University of Southampton)


We develop a new directed-search model of fertility and marriage, and apply it to two empirical problems: the rise in unmarried women’s share of births since 1970, and the fact that black women have lower marriage rates and higher rates of unmarried births than white women. The premise is that weaker marriage-market prospects may be strong enough to explain higher unmarried birth rates. Relative to the existing literature, the essential contributions of the model are to allow for accumulation of children over the lifecycle and for the marriage of single mothers. We use the model, in conjunction with US survey data, to explore the impact of marital prospects on the fertility decisions of unmarried women. We find that the decline, from the 1970s to 1995, in marriage rates of unmarried women with no children, can account for the dramatic rise in unmarried women’s share of births over that period. Contrary to the “Wilson hypothesis”, we find that male scarcity cannot account for the black-white gap in marriage rates in the 1970s.

Suggested Citation

  • John Kennes & John Knowles, 2013. "Do Marital Prospects Dissuade Unmarried Fertility?," Economics Working Papers 2013-06, Department of Economics and Business Economics, Aarhus University.
  • Handle: RePEc:aah:aarhec:2013-06

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    More about this item


    Two-Sided Search; Irreversible Investments; Divorce; Family; Family Economics; Household Formation; Marriage Rates; Premarital Sex; Single Mothers; Fertility;

    JEL classification:

    • D10 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - General
    • E13 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General Aggregative Models - - - Neoclassical
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • O11 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Macroeconomic Analyses of Economic Development

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