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The Economics of Family Structure

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  • Derek Neal

Abstract

A significant literature in demography and demographic history documents clear relationships between the supply of men with stable earnings and marriage rates among women. Wilson (1987) reasons that because single motherhood is an alternative to traditional marriage, circumstances that impede marriage should also encourage single motherhood. However, few studies provide evidence that the supply of marriageable men affects single parenting rates among women in any significant way. To address this puzzle, this paper presents a model based on a specific version of Wilson's hypothesis. The model demonstrates how previous studies based on various regression methods may have misstated the actual relationship between declining marriage market prospects and the prevalence of never-married mothers. Much of the existing literature frames the expansion of welfare and decreasing supplies of marriageble men as two competing explanations for the rise in single motherhood, especially among less educated black women, but the model developed here shows that the interaction between these two factors may be crucial for understanding the demographic trends we observe. Wilson asserts that, after 1970, economically disadvantaged black women responded to poor marriage markets by choosing to raise children on their own, but this choice may not have been desirable or even feasible without the expansion of welfare programs during the 1960s. The logic of assortative mating implies that, during economic downturns, the women who face the worst marriage prospects are themselves economically disadvantaged and may not possess the resources required to raise children on their own. Studies in demographic history indicate that, in previous eras, women in western societies routinely choose to remain single and childless whenever economic crises or wars eroded their marriage market prospects. Never-married mothers are a relatively recent demographic phenomenon.

Suggested Citation

  • Derek Neal, 2001. "The Economics of Family Structure," NBER Working Papers 8519, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8519
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Scott South & Kim Lloyd, 1992. "Marriage markets and nonmarital fertility in the United States," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 29(2), pages 247-264, May.
    2. George A. Akerlof & Janet L. Yellen & Michael L. Katz, 1996. "An Analysis of Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing in the United States," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(2), pages 277-317.
    3. Saul D. Hoffman & E. Michael Foster, 2000. "AFDC Benefits and Nonmarital Births to Young Women," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 35(2), pages 376-391.
    4. Michael J. Brien, 1997. "Racial Differences in Marriage and the Role of Marriage Markets," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 32(4), pages 741-778.
    5. Olsen, Randall J & Farkas, George, 1990. "The Effect of Economic Opportunity and Family Background on Adolescent Cohabitation and Childbearing among Low-Income Blacks," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 8(3), pages 341-362, July.
    6. Bergstrom, Theodore C & Cornes, Richard C, 1983. "Independence of Allocative Efficiency from Distribution in the Theory of Public Goods," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 51(6), pages 1753-1765, November.
    7. Thomas M. Lyons & James J. Heckman & Petra E. Todd, 2000. "Understanding Black-White Wage Differentials, 1960-1990," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 344-349, May.
    8. Mark R. Rosenzweig, 1999. "Welfare, Marital Prospects, and Nonmarital Childbearing," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(S6), pages 3-32, December.
    9. Robert J. Willis, 1999. "A Theory of Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(S6), pages 33-64, December.
    10. Greg Duncan & Saul Hoffman, 1990. "Welfare benefits, economic opportunities, and out-of-wedlock births among black teenage girls," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 27(4), pages 519-535, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Gray, Joanna & Stockard, Jean & Stone, Joe, 2010. "A birth-cohort test of the wilson willis model of nonmarital fertility," MPRA Paper 22538, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Charles H. Mullin & Ping Wang, 2002. "The Timing of Childbearing among Heterogeneous Women in Dynamic General Equilibrium," NBER Working Papers 9231, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Derek Neal, 2004. "The Measured Black-White Wage Gap among Women Is Too Small," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(S1), pages 1-28, February.
    4. Lena Edlund, 2013. "The Role of Paternity Presumption and Custodial Rights for Understanding Marriage Patterns," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 80(320), pages 650-669, October.
    5. Donna K. Ginther & Robert A. Pollak, 2000. "Does family structure affect children's educational outcomes?," FRB Atlanta Working Paper 2000-13, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
    6. Grogan, L., 2002. "What Caused the Post-Transition Fertility Decline in Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union?," Working Papers 2002-5, University of Guelph, Department of Economics and Finance.
    7. Howard Bodenhorn, 2006. "Single Parenthood and Childhood Outcomes in the Mid-Nineteenth Century Urban South," NBER Working Papers 12056, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Black, Dan A. & McKinnish, Terra G. & Sanders, Seth G., 2003. "Does the availability of high-wage jobs for low-skilled men affect welfare expenditures? Evidence from shocks to the steel and coal industries," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(9-10), pages 1921-1942, September.

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    JEL classification:

    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics

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