Marriage-Jobs

WOMEN WITH BETTER EDUCATION THAN THEIR HUSBANDS MUCH MORE LIKELY TO BE IN WORK

Married American women with more education than their husbands are much more likely to be working than women who are less educated than their husbands. The difference in their rates of employment is 20 percentage points. These are the central findings of research by Rania Gihleb and Osnat Lifshitz, presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2013 annual conference.

The study analyses US data collected by the March Current Population Survey from 1965 to 2011 as well as from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. It finds that women with a university degree have an employment rate of 48% when married to husbands with postgraduate education compared with an employment rate of 68% when married to husbands with a university degree.

The research stresses that this is not because different women marry ‘up’ or ‘down’ as there appears to be no other difference in the likelihood of having children or roles within the family. The study shows that women with a higher degree than their husbands keep their job more often than otherwise similar women, even when their husbands’ income is in the top percentile.

The authors suggest that a woman’s decisions in early life can determine their employment decisions when married. For highly educated women, once they start working, they get ‘attached’ to the job market and over time their wages increase. Regardless of their husbands’ incomes, these women’s incentives to leave their well-paid jobs are low, leading to a ‘lock-in effect’.

For less well-educated women, however, the opposite story unfolds whereby low experience and low wages combined with their husbands’ higher earnings mean that the incentives to work are low and remain low.

The authors argue that understanding the job roles of married couples is becoming more important as the traditional family unit changes. They point out that the employment rate of married women has increased sharply over the last half century, roughly doubling between 1965 and 2000.

Over the same period, both men and women have continued to complete more schooling and from the mid-1980s, women’s educational attainment began to surpass men’s. In 2003, there were 1.35 women for every man in an undergraduate four-year programme. By 2003, 55% of married couples with different education levels were those in which the wife’s education exceeded their husband’s, up from less than 40% in the mid-1970s.

More…

The past six decades have witnessed some major transformations. The employment rate of married women sharply increased, roughly doubling between 1965 and 2000. Over the same period, men’s and women’s educational attainment has shifted dramatically. Both men and women complete more schooling than in the past. By the mid-1980s, women’s educational attainment began to surpass men’s.

In 2003, female undergraduates in four-year programmes outnumbered men by a factor of 1.3, while there were 1.35 females for each male college graduate. The reversal of the gender gap in education among men and women quickly translated into a reversal of the education gap among husbands and wives.

At nearly the same time as women’s college completion outpaced men’s, newly married wives’ educational attainment began to exceed their husbands’. By 2003, 55% of married couples with different education levels were those in which wives’ education exceeded their husbands’, up from less than 40% in the mid-1970s.

An overlooked fact: women married to husbands of lower education work more, regardless of their husbands’ income!

A substantial literature has studied female labour market participation in the US over the past century. Yet an important fact has been overlooked. If one contrasts the labour supply behaviour of ‘married up’ (the husband is more educated than the wife) and ‘married down’ women (the husband is more educated than the wife) a striking feature emerges.

There is a striking variation in married women’s labour supply within the same education group: the married down work significantly more than the married up. For example, women holding a college degree have an employment rate of 48% when married to husbands with postgraduate education compared with 68% if married to husbands with some college degree – 20 percentage points lower.

The analysis in this study is based on 1965-2011 data from the March Current Population Survey and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. And this pattern is not driven by selection/sorting: conditional on the women’s education level no difference in views on social norms, gender roles, and fertility is found between those that marry up, equal or down.

The results appear to indicate that ‘marrying down’ is highly and positively associated with current employment status (or negatively if marrying up), even when controlling for husband’s income.

Put simply: women with a higher degree than their husbands keep their job more often than otherwise similar women in comparable families with equally earning husbands (despite their different education levels), even when their husbands’ income is at the top percentile of men’s income distribution and therefore expected to provide a high incentive to quit their job altogether.

Why? Returns to experience and path dependence

The study explores the dynamic and the extent to which path dependence effects could generate the patterns observed in the data. Results support the hypothesis that the phenomenon is consistent with human capital accumulation and path dependence effects. In other words, at the time of marriage, women act on ‘rational expectations’.

When women have a higher level of education than their husbands, their relative earning potential is quite high, therefore making them likely to be employed. Once women accumulate experience working, they get attached to the labour market, and with tenure, their wage increases. Hence, regardless of husband’s income (and its fluctuations), incentives to leave the labour market are low, leading to a ‘lock-in effect’.

On the other hand, the opposite story unfolds for their ‘fortunate’ counterparts who married a husband of higher education than their own, making these women less likely to opt for employment to begin with. In turn, the lack of job market experience results in a low propensity of joining the job market in the future.

As the proportion of married down women has increased over the past six decades and is still increasing, to the extent that the woman’s matching decision on the marriage market and labour market behaviour are correlated, this phenomenon deserves more attention. It is not just an interesting fact but it also has lifecycle consequences.

ENDS


Notes for editors:

‘Dynamic Model of the Effects of Educational Match on Married Women’s Labor Supply’ by Rania Gihleb and Osnat Lifshitz

Contact:

RES media consultant Romesh Vaitilingam:
+44 (0) 7768 661095
romesh@vaitilingam.com
@econromesh

Page Options