Discussion paper

DP11878 When Work Disappears: Manufacturing Decline and the Falling Marriage-Market Value of Men

The structure of marriage and child-rearing in U.S. households has undergone two marked
shifts in the last three decades: a steep decline in the prevalence of marriage among young adults,
and a sharp rise in the fraction of children born to unmarried mothers or living in single-headed
households. A potential contributor to both phenomena is the declining labor-market opportunities
faced by males, which make them less valuable as marital partners. We exploit large
scale, plausibly exogenous labor-demand shocks stemming from rising international manufacturing
competition to test how shifts in the supply of young ‘marriageable’ males affect marriage,
fertility and children’s living circumstances. Trade shocks to manufacturing industries have
particularly negative impacts on the labor market prospects of men and degrade their marriage-market
value along multiple dimensions: diminishing their relative earnings—particularly at the
lower segment of the distribution—reducing their physical availability in trade-impacted labor
markets, and increasing their participation in risky and damaging behaviors. As predicted by a
simple model of marital decision-making under uncertainty, we document that adverse shocks to
the supply of ‘marriageable’ men reduce the prevalence of marriage and lower fertility but raise
the fraction of children born to young and unwed mothers and living in in poor single-parent
households. The falling marriage-market value of young men appears to be a quantitatively
important contributor to the rising


Dorn, D, D Autor and G Hanson (2017), ‘DP11878 When Work Disappears: Manufacturing Decline and the Falling Marriage-Market Value of Men‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 11878. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp11878