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Schooling, Fertility, and Married Female Labor Supply: What Role for Health?

Between the latter nineteenth century and the 1930s there was a dramatic revolution in American families. Family size continued its long-term decline, the schooling of older children expanded and the proportion of married females' adulthood devoted to market-oriented activities increased. Over this same period there were significant reductions in mortality, especially among the young, and impressive reductions in morbidity. This paper considers all these trends jointly, modeling the changes in fertility, child schooling and lifetime married female labor supply as a consequence of exogenous changes in health. These interactions are then quantified using calibration techniques. The simulations suggest that reductions in child mortality alone cannot explain the transformation of the American family. Indeed, in our preferred calibration, reductions in child mortality lead to a modest decline in human capital and increase in fertility, with little effect on married female labor force involvement. In sharp contrast, reductions in morbidity are found to lower fertility and increase education. The time savings from lower fertility more than offset the increased time mothers invest in their childrens' quality, freeing some time for market work. Nevertheless, to quantitatively account for the increase in mother's time spent at work it proves necessary to generate further reductions in mother's household production time. In our framework this is driven by a narrowing of the gender wage gap. More generally, viewing the implications of health improvements deepens our understanding of the American family transformation, complementing explanations based on narrowing of the gender wage gap, skill biased technical change and changes in household technology.

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Paper provided by UMBC Department of Economics in its series UMBC Economics Department Working Papers with number 09-108.

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Length: 36 pages
Date of creation: 11 Sep 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:umb:econwp:09108
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