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War Finance and the Baby Boom

  • Kai Zhao

    (University of Connecticut)

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In this paper, I extend the Barro-Becker model of endogenous fertility to incorporate specific fiscal policies and use it to study the effects of the fiscal policy changes following WWII on fertility in the United States. The US government went through large changes in fiscal policy after the beginning of WWII. The marginal income tax rate for an average American jumped from 4% on average before 1940 to approximately 25% during the war and stayed around 20% afterwards. The government debt-GDP ratio jumped from approximately 30% on average before WWII to 108% in 1946 and then dropped gradually in the following two decades to about 30% again at the end of 1960s. I find that the dramatic increase in the marginal income tax rate was an important cause of the postwar baby boom in the US because it lowered the after-tax wage and thus the opportunity cost of child-rearing. I also find that the differential change in taxes by income was an important reason why the baby boom was more pronounced among richer households (as documented by Jones and Tertilt (2008)). Furthermore, I argue that the government's debt policy may also matter for understanding fertility choices because govern- ment debt implies a tax burden on children in the future and thus affects their utility, which is a key determinant of current fertility choice in the Barro-Becker model. The results of a computational experiment show that the US government's postwar debt policy also contributed to the baby boom, but its quantitative importance is relatively small.

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Paper provided by University of Connecticut, Department of Economics in its series Working papers with number 2013-25.

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Length: 29 pages
Date of creation: Aug 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:uct:uconnp:2013-25
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Web page: http://www.econ.uconn.edu/

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  1. Robert Haveman & Barbara Wolfe, 1995. "The Determinants of Children's Attainments: A Review of Methods and Findings," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 33(4), pages 1829-1878, December.
  2. Yishay Maoz & Moshe Hazan & Matthias Doepke, 2008. "The Baby Boom and World War II: A Macroeconomic Analysis," 2008 Meeting Papers 668, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  3. Solon, Gary, 1992. "Intergenerational Income Mobility in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 393-408, June.
  4. Juan Carlos Conesa & Sagiri Kitao & Dirk Krueger, 2007. "Taxing Capital? Not a Bad Idea After All!," NBER Working Papers 12880, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. David DE LA CROIX & Matthias DOEPKE, 2002. "Public versus Private Education When Diferential Fertility Matters," Discussion Papers (IRES - Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales) 2002013, Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES).
  6. Zimmerman, David J, 1992. "Regression toward Mediocrity in Economic Stature," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 409-29, June.
  7. Gary S. Becker & Robert J. Barro, 1986. "A Reformulation of the Economic Theory of Fertility," NBER Working Papers 1793, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Friesen, Peter H & Miller, Danny, 1983. "Annual Inequality and Lifetime Inequality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 98(1), pages 139-55, February.
  9. Jeremy Greenwood & Ananth Seshadri & Guillaume Vandenbroucke, 2005. "The Baby Boom and Baby Bust," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 183-207, March.
  10. DE LA CROIX, David & DOEPKE, Matthias, . "Inequality and growth: why differential fertility matters," CORE Discussion Papers RP -1676, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  11. Gouveia, Miguel & Strauss, Robert P., 1994. "Effective Federal Individual Tax Functions: An Exploratory Empirical Analysis," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 47(2), pages 317-39, June.
  12. Barro, R.J. & Becker, G.S., 1988. "Fertility Choice In A Model Of Economic Growth," University of Chicago - Economics Research Center 88-8, Chicago - Economics Research Center.
  13. DE LA CROIX, David & DOEPKE, Matthias, 2001. "Inequality and Growth : Why Differential Fertility Matters," Discussion Papers (IRES - Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales) 2001008, Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES).
  14. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2009. "This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 8973.
  15. Larry E. Jones & Alice Schoonbroodt, 2007. "Complements versus Substitutes and Trends in Fertility Choice in Dynastic Models," NBER Working Papers 13680, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Kai Zhao, 2009. "Social Security, Differential Fertility, and the Dynamics of the Earnings Distribution," UWO Department of Economics Working Papers 20091, University of Western Ontario, Department of Economics.
  17. Larry E. Jones & Alice Schoonbroodt, 2010. "Baby Busts and Baby Booms: The Fertility Response to Shocks in Dynastic Models," NBER Working Papers 16596, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Matthias Doepke, 2002. "Child Mortality and Fertility Decline: Does the Barro-Becker Model Fit the Facts?," UCLA Economics Working Papers 824, UCLA Department of Economics.
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