David Autor: When Work Disappears: Consequences of the Declining Marriage-Market Value of Men for Marriage, Fertility, and Children's Living Circumstances

See also: Spring 2017

Date: 

Monday, April 10, 2017, 12:00pm to 1:45pm

Location: 

Harvard Kennedy School: Allison Dining Room


David Autor, Ford Professor of Economics, MIT.

The structure of marriage and child-rearing in U.S. households has undergone two marked shifts in the last three decades: a steep decline in the prevalence of marriage among young adults, and a sharp rise in the fraction of children born to unmarried mothers or living in single-headed households.

A potential contributor to both phenomena is the declining labor-market opportunities faced by males, which make them less valuable as marital partners. We exploit large scale, plausibly exogenous labor-demand shocks stemming from rising international manufacturing competition to test how shifts in the supply of young ‘marriageable’ males affect marriage, fertility and children’s living circumstances.

Trade shocks to manufacturing industries have particularly negative impacts on the labor market prospects of men and degrade their marriage-market value along multiple dimensions: diminishing their relative earnings—particularly at the lower segment of the distribution—reducing their physical availability in trade-impacted labor markets, and increasing their participation in risky and damaging behaviors.

As predicted by a simple model of marital decision-making under uncertainty, we document that adverse shocks to the supply of ‘marriageable’ men reduce the prevalence of marriage and lower fertility but raise the fraction of children born to young and unwed mothers and living in in poor single-parent households. The falling marriage-market value of young men appears to be a quantitatively important contributor to the rising rate of out-of-wedlock childbearing and single-headed childrearing in the United States.

View the paper

About the speaker

David Autor is Ford Professor of Economics and Associate Department Head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Economics. He is also a Faculty Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, Director of the NBER Disability Research Center, and Director (with Joshua Angrist and Parag Pathak) of the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative (SEII) at MIT.

Autor's fields of specializaton include human capital, skill supply and demand, and earnings inequality; labor market impacts of technological change and globalization; disability insurance and labor force participation; and contingent and intermediated work arrangements.

Autor is the recip­i­ent of an NSF CAREER award for his research on labor mar­ket inter­me­di­a­tion, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship, the Sherwin Rosen Prize for out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tions in the field of Labor Economics, and the John T. Dunlop Outstanding Scholar Award given by the Labor and Employment Relations Association. He is an elected fellow of the Econometric Society, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a fellow of the Society of Labor Economists. Autor has won numerous teaching awards, including the James A. and Ruth Levitan Award for Excellence in Teaching from the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

Autor received his BA in Psychology from Tufts University and his Ph.D. in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. While at Harvard, he was a doctoral fellow in the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy.

Read more about Autor's work
economics.mit.edu/faculty/dautor