Much has been written about the income returns to education, but women have been largely ignored by this literature, having historically spent significant periods of time outside the formal labor market. In a thought-provoking new study, economists from Brigham Young University correlate women's education to future quality of life through an examination of husband's earnings. Specifically, the researchers find that a woman's college completion predicts an average increase in her husband's earnings of more than $20,000 relative to women who only attended some college.
"Women's education does not have a strong effect on the probability of being married but dramatically increases husband's income," write Lars Lefgren and Frank McIntyre in the current issue of the Journal of Labor Economics.
Consistent with the observation that school has become an increasingly important place to meet potential partners, women who attended college are much more likely to marry college-educated husbands. Education may also change a woman's social circles, or make them more desirable to high-ability men. It has also been well established in other literature that married men earn more than unmarried men.
However, given that women who choose to invest heavily in education may be systematically different than women who invest less, Legren and McIntyre wanted to even more firmly establish a causal relationship between education and marriage outcomes.
Using Census data from 1980 broken down by birth quarter, the researchers analyzed how enrollment cutoff dates and differences in the amount of compulsory schooling can affect husband's earnings. They found that an extra year of schooling – that is, the difference in compulsory schooling between a child born in mid-December, just before the cutoff, and a child born a month later in mid-January, just after the cutoff – increases husband's earnings by about $4,000.
"Inasmuch as marriage generates nonpecuniary benefits as well, the marriage market could be an even more important avenue through which education increases women's welfare," the authors write.
Since 1983, the Journal of Labor Economics has presented international research that examines issues affecting the economy as well as social and private behavior.
Lars Lefgren and Frank McIntyre. "The Relationship between Women's Education and Marriage Outcomes," Journal of Labor Economics 24:4.
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