DP7485 Marriage and Emancipation in The Age of The Pill

Author(s): Lena Cecilia Edlund, Cecilia Machado
Publication Date: October 2009
Keyword(s): Contraceptive Pill, Education, Marriage, Occupation
JEL(s): J13, J24
Programme Areas: Labour Economics
Link to this Page: www.cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=7485

Women’s economic emancipation arguably took off in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While ubiquitous, its origins are not well understood. In an influential paper, Goldin and Katz [2002] pointed to the role of unmarried women’s access to the oral contraceptive (the Pill), ushered in by the extension of legal rights to "mature minors" in the late 1960s early 1970s. However, the Pill was FDA approved already in 1960, and many states allowed a minor to marry, thereby emancipating her with respect to medical treatment, including the Pill. By the mid-1970s, the minimum marriage age had been lowered to 18 in almost all states. Exploiting changes in the legal rights of young adults by state, we find evidence that the Pill made early marriage more attractive and facilitated women’s educational and occupational attainments. Marriage combined with the Pill, we speculate, may have provided women with the means to pursue higher education at a time of limited student aid and ability to borrow against future earnings.