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'Acting Wife': Marriage Market Incentives and Labor Market Investments

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  • Leonardo Bursztyn
  • Thomas Fujiwara
  • Amanda Pallais

Abstract

Do single women avoid career-enhancing actions because these actions could signal personality traits, like ambition, that are undesirable in the marriage market? We answer this question through two field experiments in an elite U.S. MBA program. Newly-admitted MBA students filled out a questionnaire on job preferences and personality traits to be used by the career center in internship placement; randomly-selected students thought their answers would be shared with classmates. When they believed their classmates would not see their responses, single and non-single women answered similarly. However, single women reported desired yearly compensation $18,000 lower and being willing to travel seven fewer days per month and work four fewer hours per week when they expected their classmates would see their answers. They also reported less professional ambition and tendency for leadership. Neither men nor non-single women changed their answers in response to peer observability. A supplementary experiment asked students to make choices over hypothetical jobs before discussing their choices in their career class small groups; we randomly varied the groups' gender composition. Single women were much less likely to select career-focused jobs when their answers would be shared with male peers, especially single ones. Two results from observational data support our experimental results. First, in a new survey, almost three-quarters of single female students reported avoiding activities they thought would help their career because they did not want to appear ambitious. They eschewed these activities at higher rates than did men and non-single women. Second, while unmarried women perform similarly to married women in class when their performance is kept private from classmates (on exams and problem sets), they have significantly lower participation grades.

Suggested Citation

  • Leonardo Bursztyn & Thomas Fujiwara & Amanda Pallais, 2017. "'Acting Wife': Marriage Market Incentives and Labor Market Investments," NBER Working Papers 23043, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23043
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    Cited by:

    1. Adams, Abigail & Andrew, Alison, 2019. "Preferences and Beliefs in the Marriage Market for Young Brides," CEPR Discussion Papers 13567, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Barigozzi, Francesca & Cremer, Helmuth & Roeder, Kerstin, 2018. "Women's career choices, social norms and child care policies," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 168(C), pages 162-173.
    3. Emily Nix & Martin Eckhoff Andresen, 2019. "What Causes the Child Penalty? Evidence from Same Sex Couples and Policy Reforms," Discussion Papers 902, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
    4. Buser, Thomas & Ranehill, Eva & van Veldhuizen, Roel, 2017. "Gender differences in willingness to compete: The role of public observability," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Market Behavior SP II 2017-203, WZB Berlin Social Science Center.
    5. Nicolas L. Bottan & Ricardo Perez-Truglia, 2017. "Choosing Your Pond: Location Choices and Relative Income," NBER Working Papers 23615, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Almås, Ingvild & Kotsadam, Andreas & Moen, Espen R. & Røed, Knut, 2019. "The Economics of Hypergamy," IZA Discussion Papers 12185, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    7. Almås, Ingvild & Kotsadam, Andreas & Moen, Espen R & Røed, Knut, 2019. "The Economics of Hypergamy," CEPR Discussion Papers 13606, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    8. Drupp, Moritz A. & Khadjavi, Menusch & Riekhof, Marie-Catherine & Voss, Rüdiger, 2017. "Professional identity and the gender gap in risk-taking: Evidence from a field experiment with scientists," Kiel Working Papers 2077, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).
    9. Zhang, Peilu & Zhang, Yinjunjie & Palma, Marco, 2018. "Social Norms and Competitiveness: My Willingness to Compete Depends on Who I am (supposed to be)," MPRA Paper 89727, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • Z10 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - General

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