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The University of Southampton
EconomicsPart of Economic, Social and Political Science

1209 Do Marital Prospects Dissuade Unmarried Fertility? (J. Knowles & J. Kennes)

Title: Do Marital Prospects Dissuade Unmarried Fertility?

Author: John Knowles (University of Southampton, UK) and John Kennes (University of Aarhus, Denmark)

Paper no 1209


We develop a new directed-search model of fertility and marriage, and apply it to two empirical problems: the rise of unmarried women's share of births since 1970, and the fact that black women have lower marriage rates and higher rates of unmarried births than white women. The premise is that weaker marriage-market prospects may be strong enough to explain higher unmarried birth rates. Relative to the existing literature, the essential contributions of the model are to allow for accumulation of children over the lifecycle and for the marriage of single mothers. We use the model, in conjunction with US survey data, to explore the impact of marital prospects on the fertility decisions of unmarried women. We find that the decline, from 1970s to 1995, in marriage rates of unmarried women with no children, can account for the dramatic rise in unmarried women's share of births over that period. Contrary to the ‘'Wilson hypothesis'', we find that male scarcity cannot account for the black-white gap in marriage rates in the 1970s.

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