FEEM working papers "Note di lavoro" series
2003 .041

Abortion and female power in the household. Evidence from labor supply

Authors: Sonia Oreffice
Series: Economy and Society
Editor: Gianmarco I.P. Ottaviano
Type: Journal
Keywords: abortion,collective household behavior,labor supply
JEL n.: D12,J12,J22,K39
JEL: Review of Economics of the Household
Pages: Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 181-207
Date: 2007


Legalization of abortion in the 1970s represents a major cultural change: it gives women a higher degree of freedom to directly control their fertility, allowing them to ultimately decide upon children without man’s consent and to decrease uncertainty in their expected labor market returns.

This public policy and its implications on female behavior have been so far analyzed through its direct consequences on fertility and fertility technology, primarily on women actually experiencing an abortion.

However, it seems relevant to evaluate its indirect effects on female bargaining power within the household, for all women that face abortion as an actual opportunity, without necessarily experiencing one. Although indirect, this impact may be widespread since in principle it concerns all couples where the woman is in her fertile age.

I focus on the indirect effect of abortion legalization in the United States on women’s position in the household. My findings suggest that the legalization positively affected female bargaining power.

In a dynamic model of possible commitment to marital contract, I analyze households that were already formed before the legalization and I test for the renegotiation of the household’s initial contract in the presence of the shock to bargaining power balance represented by abortion legalization. Results seem to reject the full commitment assumption.

Specifically, I analyze the legalization of abortion as a distribution factor in a collective model of household behaviour through its effects on female labor supply and find that (controlling for the number of children) the legalization significantly decreased labor supply of married women in their fertile age and significantly increased their husbands’, while no such effect is found for older married women nor for single and divorced women or men.

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