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Why Women Work: Disentangling the Role of Marriage Prospects and Intra-Household Behavior


  • Alessandra Fogli
  • Raquel Fernandez


It has been shown that women married to men brought up by working mothers are significantly more likely to work than women married to men whose mothers were housewives. Furthermore, shocks to an economy which increase the number of working women (such as WWII), and thereby also increase the proportion of men whose mothers work, have dynamic repercussions: they make it more attractive for women to work in the following generation and hence increase female labor force participation over time. This paper investigates why this is so. One possible explanation is that a man whose mother worked may prefer (or be preferred by) a working woman. In this case, the presence in society of a greater proportion of men with working mothers affects a woman’s expectations and market skill acquisition decisions, increasing the odds of her working independently of the type of man she eventually marries. If so, the positive correlation between the working behavior of man’s mother and that of his wife would primarily be due to marital selection. An alternative hypothesis centers instead on household behavior. In this view, a married woman’s working behavior is not so much a response to investment decisions taken before marriage, but a result of interaction within the household. If so, the positive correlation between the working behavior of a man’s mother and his wife is primarily the result of the different set of preferences and skills that the husband brings to the marriage if his mother worked that also make it more attractive for his wife to work. This paper develops a theoretical framework useful to analyze and distinguish between both channels and provides empirical evidence on their quantitative significance. In particular, using data from the General Social Survey (GSS) and the Census, this study shows that the main factor driving the result appears to- operate through women’s expectations and investment decisions. The consequences of this finding for policy analysis are analyzed and discussed

Suggested Citation

  • Alessandra Fogli & Raquel Fernandez, 2004. "Why Women Work: Disentangling the Role of Marriage Prospects and Intra-Household Behavior," 2004 Meeting Papers 864, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed004:864

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    More about this item


    female labor force participation; marriage; family;

    JEL classification:

    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • Z10 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - General
    • D19 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Other


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