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. …
Two cardinal results help to weave these many empirical strands together. A first is that trade shocks faced by the U.S. manufacturing sector—which employs a disproportionate share of male workers—reduce the economic stature of men relative to women. Consistent with this pattern, shocks to male-intensive manufacturing industries are particularly destabilizing to marriage-markets. A second broad result, predicted by our model and strongly affirmed by the data, is that gender-specific shocks to labor-market outcomes have strikingly non-parallel impacts on marriage-market outcomes. Male-specific shocks reduce overall fertility, but reduce it by less among teens and unmarried mothers than among older and married mothers, thereby increasing the fraction of children born out of wedlock and living in poverty. Conversely, female-specific shocks have more modest effects on overall fertility but reduce the share of births to teens and unmarried mothers, thus raising in-wedlock births and reducing the fraction of children living in single-headed households. These patterns are consistent with our model in which a decline in the quality of male partners makes single motherhood a more attractive option to young mothers, while a decline in female earnings potential increases marriage rates conditional on fertility. Netting over the effects of secularly falling male earnings and improving women’s labor-market conditions during recent decades, our model predicts a reduction in both fertility and marriage, a rise in the fraction of children born out of wedlock, and an increase in the prevalence of children living in single-headed and poor households. These patterns are evident in the aggregate data and, moreover, hold as causal relationships within local labor markets when we isolate plausibly exogenous shocks to earnings opportunities overall and by gender.
It’s a shame my 2005 concept of “affordable family formation” took so long to catch on.
Illegal immigration to fill male jobs, such as construction worker during the Bush Bubble years, wasn’t good for male Americans, nor for the female Americans who would marry them if they had decent-paying jobs.