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effect of incarceration on marriage markets

29 July 2013

This paper studies how rising male incarceration has affected women, through its effect on the marriage market. Variation in the marriage market shocks caused by incarceration is isolated using two facts: the tendency of people to marry within marriage markets defined by the interaction of race, location and age; and the fact that increases in incarceration have been very different across these three characteristics. We find strong evidence that women have been affected by rising incarceration precisely as the standard marriage market model would imply. Higher male imprisonment has lowered the likelihood that women marry, reduced the quality of their spouses when they do, and caused a shift in the gains from marriage away from women and towards men. We find that women increase schooling and labor supply in response to these changes, but this investment has been insufficient to prevent an increase in female poverty.

This abstract is from a working paper, Male Incarceration, the Marriage Market and Female Outcomes.

[UPDATE: The paper was published in 2010 by The Review of Economics and Statistics (ReSTAT).]

How were the authors able to study this?

This paper exploits the fact that the overwhelming majority of marriages occur between women and men in sharply distinct markets, defined by the interaction of race, age, and geographic region. Because the trend increase in incarceration has varied tremendously over these three categories, rising incarceration has lowered the relative presence of men by very different amounts in different marriage markets.

The authors are essentially exploiting the difference in incarceration rates by race. For those who are unfamiliar, America’s prison population is 37.1% Black, even though Blacks only make up 13.1% of the population.

A clear picture over time of the different rates of incarceration is a reproduction below of the paper’s Figure 1:

incarceration rates by race

HT a footnote in a recent blog post by Jason Kerwin.

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