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Are children 'normal'?

  • Dan Black
  • Natalia Kolesnikova
  • Seth G. Sanders
  • Lowell J. Taylor

In his classic work on the economics of fertility, Becker (1960) suggests that children are likely “normal.” We examine this contention. Our first step is documenting an empirical regularity about the cross section of white married couples in the U.S.: when we restrict comparisons to households living in broadly similar locations (e.g., in expensive urban areas, or in rural areas), completed fertility is positively correlated with the husband’s income. Two alternative models rationalize the data—one in which children are “normal” and a second in which the observed pattern emerges solely as a consequence of rational sorting by households. In an effort to sort out causal effects, we undertake a rather specialized empirical exercise to analyze the localized impact on fertility of the mid-1970s increase in world energy prices—an exogenous shock that substantially increased men’s incomes in the Appalachian coal-mining region. We find that children are indeed “normal.”

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in its series Working Papers with number 2008-040.

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Date of creation: 2009
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedlwp:2008-040
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  1. Mary Borg, 1989. "The Income-Fertility Relationship: Effect of the Net Price of a Child," Demography, Springer, vol. 26(2), pages 301-310, May.
  2. Lalive, Rafael & Zweimüller, Josef, 2005. "Does Parental Leave Affect Fertility and Return-to-Work? Evidence from a "True Natural Experiment"," IZA Discussion Papers 1613, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Roback, Jennifer, 1982. "Wages, Rents, and the Quality of Life," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(6), pages 1257-78, December.
  4. Schultz, T Paul, 1985. "Changing World Prices, Women's Wages, and the Fertility Transition: Sweden, 1860-1910," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 93(6), pages 1126-54, December.
  5. Joshua D. Angrist & William N. Evans, 1996. "Children and Their Parents' Labor Supply: Evidence from Exogenous Variation in Family Size," NBER Working Papers 5778, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Hotz, V Joseph & Miller, Robert A, 1988. "An Empirical Analysis of Life Cycle Fertility and Female Labor Supply," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(1), pages 91-118, January.
  7. Heckman, James J & Walker, James R, 1990. "The Relationship between Wages and Income and the Timing and Spacing of Births: Evidence from Swedish Longitudinal Data," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(6), pages 1411-41, November.
  8. Simon, Curtis & Tamura, Robert, 2008. "Do higher rents discourage fertility? evidence from U.S. cities, 1940-2000," MPRA Paper 7721, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  9. Dan Black & Kermit Daniel & Seth Sanders, 2002. "The Impact of Economic Conditions on Participation in Disability Programs: Evidence from the Coal Boom and Bust," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(1), pages 27-50, March.
  10. Willis, Robert J, 1973. "A New Approach to the Economic Theory of Fertility Behavior," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(2), pages S14-64, Part II, .
  11. Becker, Gary S & Lewis, H Gregg, 1973. "On the Interaction between the Quantity and Quality of Children," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(2), pages S279-88, Part II, .
  12. Dan Black & Terra McKinnish & Seth Sanders, 2005. "The Economic Impact Of The Coal Boom And Bust," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 115(503), pages 449-476, 04.
  13. Black, Dan & Sanders, Seth & Taylor, Lowell, 2003. "Measurement of Higher Education in the Census and Current Population Survey," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 98, pages 545-554, January.
  14. Larry E. Jones & Michele Tertilt, 2006. "An Economic History of Fertility in the U.S.: 1826-1960," NBER Working Papers 12796, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Black, Dan & Gates, Gary & Sanders, Seth & Taylor, Lowell, 2002. "Why Do Gay Men Live in San Francisco?," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 51(1), pages 54-76, January.
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