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Is Marriage for White People? Incarceration, Unemployment, and the Racial Marriage Divide

Author

Listed:
  • Elizabeth Caucutt

    (Western University Canada)

  • Nezih Guner

    (CEMFI)

  • Christopher Rauh

    (University of Montreal)

Abstract

The black-white differences in marriages in the US are striking. While 83% of white women between ages 25 and 54 were ever married in 2006, only 56% of black women were: a gap of 27 percentage points. Wilson (1987) suggests that the lack of marriageable black men due to incarceration and unemployment is responsible for low marriage rates among the black population. In this paper, we take a dynamic look at the Wilson Hypothesis. We argue that the current incarceration policies and labor market prospects make black men riskier spouses than white men. They are not only more likely to be, but also to become, unemployed or incarcerated than their white counterparts. We develop an equilibrium search model of marriage, divorce and labor supply that takes into account the transitions between employment, unemployment and prison for individuals by race, education, and gender. We estimate model parameters to be consistent with key statistics of the US economy. We then investigate how much of the racial divide in marriage is due to differences in the riskiness of potential spouses. We find that differences in incarceration and employment dynamics between black and white men can account for half of the existing black-white marriage gap in the data.

Suggested Citation

  • Elizabeth Caucutt & Nezih Guner & Christopher Rauh, 2018. "Is Marriage for White People? Incarceration, Unemployment, and the Racial Marriage Divide," Working Papers 2018-074, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
  • Handle: RePEc:hka:wpaper:2018-074
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Hero Ashman & Seth Neumuller, 2020. "Can Income Differences Explain the Racial Wealth Gap: A Quantitative Analysis," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 35, pages 220-239, January.
    2. Bertocchi, Graziella & Dimico, Arcangelo, 2020. "Bitter Sugar: Slavery and the Black Family," GLO Discussion Paper Series 564, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    3. Jeremy Greenwood & Nezih Guner & Karen A. Kopecky, 2019. "The Wife's Protector: A Quantitative Theory Linking Contraceptive Technology with the Decline in Marriage," Working Papers wp2019_1912, CEMFI.
    4. Graziella Bertocchi & Arcangelo Dimico, 2020. "Bitter Sugar: Slavery and the Black Family," Department of Economics 0172, University of Modena and Reggio E., Faculty of Economics "Marco Biagi".

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Marriage; race; incarceration; Inequality; unemployment;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
    • J64 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Unemployment: Models, Duration, Incidence, and Job Search

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