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When Work Disappears: Manufacturing Decline and the Falling Marriage-Market Value of Men

Listed author(s):
  • David Autor
  • David Dorn
  • Gordon Hanson

The structure of marriage and child-rearing in U.S. households has undergone two marked shifts in the last three decades: a steep decline in the prevalence of marriage among young adults, and a sharp rise in the fraction of children born to unmarried mothers or living in single-headed households. A potential contributor to both phenomena is the declining labor-market opportunities faced by males, which make them less valuable as marital partners. We exploit large scale, plausibly exogenous labor-demand shocks stemming from rising international manufacturing competition to test how shifts in the supply of young ‘marriageable’ males affect marriage, fertility and children's living circumstances. Trade shocks to manufacturing industries have differentially negative impacts on the labor market prospects of men and degrade their marriage-market value along multiple dimensions: diminishing their relative earnings—particularly at the lower segment of the distribution—reducing their physical availability in trade-impacted labor markets, and increasing their participation in risky and damaging behaviors. As predicted by a simple model of marital decision-making under uncertainty, we document that adverse shocks to the supply of `marriageable' men reduce the prevalence of marriage and lower fertility but raise the fraction of children born to young and unwed mothers and living in in poor single-parent households. The falling marriage-market value of young men appears to be a quantitatively important contributor to the rising rate of out-of-wedlock childbearing and single-headed childrearing in the United States.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 23173.

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Date of creation: Feb 2017
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23173
Note: CH LS
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  1. Becker, Gary S, 1973. "A Theory of Marriage: Part I," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(4), pages 813-846, July-Aug..
  2. Elizabeth Ananat & Anna Gassman-Pines & Christina Gibson-Davis, 2013. "Community-Wide Job Loss and Teenage Fertility: Evidence From North Carolina," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 50(6), pages 2151-2171, December.
  3. Barry Naughton, 2007. "The Chinese Economy: Transitions and Growth," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262640643, September.
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