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Women's emancipation through education: a macroeconomic analysis

  • Fatih Guvenen
  • Michelle Rendall

In this paper, we study the role of education as insurance against a bad marriage. Historically, due to disparities in earning power and education across genders, married women often found themselves in an economically vulnerable position, and had to suffer one of two fates in a bad marriage: either they get divorced (assuming it is available) and struggle as low-income single mothers, or they remain trapped in the marriage. In both cases, education can provide a route to emancipation for women. To investigate this idea, we build and estimate an equilibrium search model with education, marriage/divorce/remarriage, and household labor supply decisions. A key feature of the model is that women bear a larger share of the divorce burden, mainly because they are more closely tied to their children relative to men. Our focus on education is motivated by the fact that divorce laws typically allow spouses to keep the future returns from their human capital upon divorce (unlike their physical assets), making education a good insurance against divorce risk. However, as women further their education, the earnings gap between spouses shrinks, leading to more unstable marriages and, in turn, further increasing demand for education. The framework generates powerful amplification mechanisms, which lead to a large rise in divorce rates and a decline in marriage rates (similar to those observed in the US data) from relatively modest exogenous driving forces. Further, in the model, women overtake men in college attainment during the 1990s, a feature of the data that has proved challenging to explain. Our counterfactual experiments indicate that the divorce law reform of the 1970s played an important role in all of these trends, explaining more than one-quarter of college attainment rate of women post-1970s and one-half of the rise in labor supply for married women.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in its series Working Papers with number 704.

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Date of creation: 2013
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedmwp:704
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  1. Alejandrina Salcedo & Todd Schoellman & Michèle Tertilt, 2010. "Families as Roommates: Changes in U.S. Household Size from 1850 to 2000," Working Papers 2010-07, Banco de México.
  2. Brant Abbott & Giovanni Gallipoli & Costas Meghir & Giovanni L. Violante, 2013. "Education Policy and Intergenerational Transfers in Equilibrium," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1887, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  3. Luis Cubeddu & José-Víctor Ríos-Rull, 2003. "Families As Shocks," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 1(2-3), pages 671-682, 04/05.
  4. Michelle Rendall, 2010. "Brain versus brawn: the realization of women's comparative advantage," IEW - Working Papers 491, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  5. Jeremy Greenwood & Nezih Guner & Georgi Kocharkov & Cezar Santos, 2015. "Technology and the Changing Family: A Unified Model of marriage, Divorce, Educational Attainment and Married Female Labor-Force Participation," Working Paper Series of the Department of Economics, University of Konstanz 2015-04, Department of Economics, University of Konstanz.
  6. Adam Isen & Betsey Stevenson, 2010. "Women's Education and Family Behavior: Trends in Marriage, Divorce and Fertility," NBER Chapters, in: Demography and the Economy, pages 107-140 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Fatih Guvenen & Burhanettin Kuruscu, 2009. "A quantitative analysis of the evolution of the U.S. wage distribution, 1970-2000," Staff Report 427, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  8. Libertad González & Tarja K. Viitanen, 2006. "The Effect of Divorce Laws on Divorce Rates in Europe," Working Papers 2006003, The University of Sheffield, Department of Economics, revised Mar 2006.
  9. Hector Chade & Gustavo Ventura, . "Taxes and Marriage: A Two-Sided Search Analysis," Working Papers 2132862, Department of Economics, W. P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University.
  10. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2007. "Life-Cycle Prices and Production," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(5), pages 1533-1559, December.
  11. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz & Ilyana Kuziemko, 2006. "The Homecoming of American College Women: The Reversal of the College Gender Gap," NBER Working Papers 12139, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Elizabeth M. Caucutt & Nezih Guner & John Knowles, 2002. "Why Do Women Wait? Matching, Wage Inequality, and the Incentives for Fertility Delay," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 5(4), pages 815-855, October.
  13. Fernández, Raquel & Wong, Joyce Cheng, 2014. "Free to Leave? A Welfare Analysis of Divorce Regimes," CEPR Discussion Papers 10047, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  14. Joseph G. Altonji & Lewis M. Segal, 1994. "Small Sample Bias in GMM Estimation of Covariance Structures," NBER Technical Working Papers 0156, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Stevenson, Betsey & Wolfers, Justin, 2007. "Marriage and Divorce: Changes and their Driving Forces," CEPR Discussion Papers 6144, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  16. Justin Wolfers, 2003. "Did Unilateral Divorce Laws Raise Divorce Rates? A Reconciliation and New Results," NBER Working Papers 10014, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Gary S. Becker, 1994. "Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis with Special Reference to Education (3rd Edition)," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck94-1.
  18. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2006. "Measuring trends in leisure: the allocation of time over five decades," Working Papers 06-2, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  19. Jonathan Heathcote, 2003. "The Macroeconomic Implications of Rising Wage Inequality in the United States," Working Papers gueconwpa~03-03-19, Georgetown University, Department of Economics.
  20. Pierre-André Chiappori & Murat Iyigun & Yoram Weiss, 2009. "Investment in Schooling and the Marriage Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(5), pages 1689-1713, December.
  21. Gary S. Becker, 1981. "A Treatise on the Family," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck81-1.
  22. Raquel Fernández & Joyce Cheng Wong, 2014. "Free to Leave? A Welfare Analysis of Divorce Regimes," NBER Working Papers 20251, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. Aiyagari, S.R. & Greenwood, J. & Guner, N., 1999. "On the State of the Union," RCER Working Papers 462, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  24. John A. Knowles, 2013. "Why are Married Men Working So Much? An Aggregate Analysis of Intra-Household Bargaining and Labour Supply," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 80(3), pages 1055-1085.
  25. Iyigun, Murat & Walsh, Randall P., 2007. "Endogenous gender power, household labor supply and the demographic transition," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(1), pages 138-155, January.
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