Trends in Couples’ Work Patterns after Childbirth and Implications for Inequality: Evidence from the SIPP and Administrative Earnings

Awarded Scholars:
Kelly Musick, Cornell University
Pilar Goñalons-Pons, Goethe Universität
Christine Schwartz, University of California, Los Angeles
Project Date:
Mar 2016
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

Over the past several decades, women have entered labor force in record numbers, increased their representation in typically male-dominated occupations, and surpassed men in college graduation rates. These changes have coincided with significant shifts in family structure and declining marriage rates. Although marriage rates have been falling on average, college-educated women have become more likely to get married, stay married, and marry other college graduates than women with less education. Prior research has examined the potential impact of increased assortative mating on rising income inequality, but much less emphasis has been placed on the potential role of changes in how couples allocate labor within marriage. If, for example, the highest earning couples are increasingly those where both spouses are attached to the labor market following childbirth, family earnings inequality will likely increase if all else is equal.

Kelly Musick and her colleagues will investigate the extent to which higher family earnings—and in turn, rising earnings inequality—depend on how couples adjust their market work patterns within partnerships. They will analyze how the gender dynamics of heterosexual couples have changed over time and how this has affected aggregate levels of inequality. They will focus on the transition to parenthood as a critical turning point, estimating couple-level changes in the division of labor in the decade following childbirth, assessing variation in these changes across the earnings distribution, and linking these changes to aggregate trends in social inequality.


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