For Better, For Worse: Marriage and the Business Cycle


How do the economic bene…ts of marriage vary with macroeconomic conditions? One of the major bene…ts of marriage is the ability to dynamically coordinate labor supply decisions in response to shocks. For instance, when one spouse loses a job, the other can work more. This paper argues that dynamic coordination is countercyclical; the innovations to husbands’ and wives’labor incomes are more positively correlated when the economy is growing rapidly.
As a result, while individuals face substantially more idiosyncratic labor income risk in bad times than in good, households do not. Improved intra-household coordination undoes for couples the increased riskiness that comes to individuals in bad times. Since panel datasets are typically too short to capture more than a few business cycles, I exploit variation in the cross-sectional covariance of husbands’and wives’incomes to infer the covariance of past innovations to their incomes. Couples who have been married through periods of greater economic expansion have more positively correlated labor incomes in the cross-section, after controlling for a time trend in assortative mating. This implies that the correlation of couples’labor incomes falls by roughly 20 percent (e.g., from 10 percent to -10 percent) from booms to busts.

Funded By: 
Funded By: 
Award Dates: 
July 1, 2006 - June 30, 2007
PARC Grant Year: 
Year 13