Essays on the Economics of Women, Work and Family

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This dissertation explores recent trends in female labor supply and fertility, focusing on the impact of two modern phenomena that affected women's work and family formation decisions: the introduction of residential high speed Internet and the recent housing boom and bust cycle. The first chapter provides an introduction and discussion. The second chapter investigates the impact of home Internet usage on women's labor supply. From shopping to telecommuting, home high speed Internet has affected where, when and how individuals conduct numerous activities, and many of these changes could plausibly alter labor supply decisions. Utilizing exogenous variation in Internet usage induced by supply-side constraints to residential broadband Internet access, I find that married women who use the Internet at home are more likely to participate in the labor force. In the third chapter, I explore the potential mechanisms explaining this increase in labor supply by examining data on Internet usage, telework and time use. I find that telework, job search and time saved in home production are all plausible mechanisms through which Internet usage affects female labor supply, and the ability to engage in part-time telework through an employer is the greatest contributor to the estimated effects.

In the fourth chapter, coauthored with Melissa Kearney, we examine the effect of the recent housing boom and bust cycle on fertility decisions. Recognizing that housing is a major cost associated with child rearing, and assuming that children are normal goods, we hypothesize that an increase in house prices will have a negative price effect on current period fertility. This applies to both potential first-time homeowners and current homeowners who might upgrade to a bigger house with the addition of a child. On the other hand, for current homeowners, an increase in house prices will increase home equity, leading to a positive effect on birth rates. Employing data on Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)-level house prices, MSA-group level fertility rates, and MSA-group level home ownership rates, we find that indeed, short-term increases in house prices lead to a decline in births among non-owners and a net increase among owners.