The Impact of Social and Economic Policy on the Family Structure Experiences of Children in the United States

David Blau, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Wilbert van der Klaauw, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

We analyze the determinants of family structure change. We consider the major proposed explanations for the dramatic changes in family structure in the U.S.: changes in (1) public assistance policy, child support enforcement, divorce laws, and tax laws; (2) labor market opportunities facing men and women; and (3) marriage market conditions. We model the behavior of women who make union and childbearing decisions, but we derive from the model the consequences of these decisions for the family structure experienced by children. We use panel data from the NLSY79 to analyze the fertility, union formation, union dissolution, type of union (cohabiting versus married), and father identity (biological versus step) choices of women born from 1957 to 1964. We use the estimated model to evaluate the impacts of changes in policies and labor and marriage market conditions on the family structure experiences of children growing up during the early 1970s through 2004.

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Presented in Session 90: Marriage and Public Policy