Since the early 1970s, the United States has experienced a dramatic surge in imprisonment, especially among African American men. This paper investigates the causal effects of black male incarceration on black women's marriage and labor market outcomes, as well as its effects on black children's family structure, long-run educational outcomes, and income. To establish causality, I exploit plausibly exogenous changes in sentencing policies across states and over years, and construct a simulated instrumental variable for the incarceration rate, using offender-level data on the universe of prisoners admitted to and released from prisons between 1986 and 2009. The instrument characterizes how sentencing policies affect incarceration at both the extensive margin (i.e., whether to incarcerate an arrestee) and the intensive margin (i.e., how long to imprison an inmate). First, I find that high incarceration rates of black men negatively affect black women's marriage outcomes, although they increase the likelihood of employment for those with higher education levels. Second, higher black male incarceration rates hurt black children by increasing the likelihood of out-of-wedlock birth and living in a mother-only family, and decreasing the likelihood of having some college education in the long run. Moreover, for individuals who lived in areas with harsher sentencing policies during childhood, the black-white income gap is wider for men conditional on parental income. Third, black men at either the extensive or intensive margin of incarceration have different impacts on women and children. The results suggest the consequences of the tough-on-crime policies for inequality and racial gaps, which could be taken into account when reforming sentencing policies.
In the 1970s, many states introduced unilateral divorce laws, which allow one spouse to terminate the marriage without the consent of the other spouse. There has also been an increasing prevalence of positive assortative matching in the marriage market. This paper investigates whether the introduction of unilateral divorce laws contributes to the higher levels of assortative matching in the marriage market and the heterogeneous effects across states with different marital property division systems. I use a difference-in-differences strategy to compare the correlation of spouses’ premarital in- come between newlyweds in states that introduced unilateral divorce laws and those in states that did not introduce unilateral divorce laws in the 1970s. In particular, I use the synthetic control method to construct a control group that includes states that never introduced unilateral divorce before 1980 for each treatment state (i.e., a state that introduced unilateral divorce between 1970 and 1980), so that the trends in the correlation of spouses’ premarital income are similar for the treatment and the synthetic control states before the introduction of unilateral divorce. I find that on average, the introduction of unilateral divorce increases the correlation of spouses’ pre- marital income by 11.2%. A state-by-state analysis reveals that the results are mixed for states that divide marital property according to the legal title of the property upon divorce (i.e., common law property). Nevertheless, for states that divide marital property equally upon divorce (i.e. community property), I find that the introduction of unilateral divorce increases assortative matching in the marriage market, with an average effect of 25.6%.
Mating Preferences and Housing Prices in China: Evidence from Online Mate Search (with Joy Chen) [Submitted]
We estimate the effects of China’s surging house prices on individuals’ marital preferences and equilibrium assortative matching patterns. Using data from China’s largest dating website, we estimate mate preferences based on users’ decision to reply to a first-time message from a contact. We find that (1) site users, in particular women, have strong preferences for home-ownership, and increases in housing prices are associated with higher reply rate by women; (2) compared to non-homeowners, homeowners have stronger preferences for home-ownership; (3) home-ownership increases users’ competitiveness and this effect becomes more pronounced for men when as housing prices increase; (4) there is weak evidence on the impact of housing prices on equilibrium assortative matching patterns.
Work in Progress
Location Choices and the Role of Marriage Market: Evidence from U.S. Young Workers
This paper investigates whether the marriage market conditions affect young workers' location choices and their responses to wage shocks. Using a simple two-city spacial equilibrium model, where local wages and sex ratios are determined in equilibrium, I show that people may be willing to give up some wage opportunities in exchange for more marriage opportunities, which may explain some wage gaps across cities. Empirically, I estimate workers' preferences for cities using a two-step method. In the first step, I estimate the average utility level of each city to each type of workers using the conditional logit regression. In the second step, I decompose the the average utility levels of cities into values for the labor market, values for the marriage market, and values for the housing market using GMM estimators. The model is identified using local gender-specific labor demand shock driven by the industry structure of each city and local housing supply elasticity.
Mass Incarceration and Stopped Convergence in Black-White Educational Attainment
Between the 1960s and the mid-1980s, the black-white gap in educational attainment continued to narrow in the United States. Nevertheless, the trend toward convergence stopped in the late 1980s, when the gap began to widen again. This paper studies how mass incarceration plays a role in stalling the process of black-white educational convergence. To establish causality, I exploit plausibly exogenous changes in sentencing policies across states and over years, and construct a simulated instrumental variable for the incarceration rate. I find that higher incarceration rates of black men in the metropolitan areas where black children lived in adolescence lower their probability of completing high school, and in particular for black males. Moreover, my results suggest that the effect is mostly driven by higher risks of incarceration at the extensive margin (i.e., higher risks of imprisonment conditional on arrest, not longer time expected to serve in prison conditional on incarceration).
Gender Differences in Commuting and the Gender Pay Gap (with Yichen Su)