Earnings, Marriage, and Lifetime Family Income: Generational Change for Men and Women


We study generational change in the role of labor market behavior and marriage in determining the family income that individuals experience over their adult lives. Building on Altonji, Giraldo-Paez, Hynsjo, and Vidangos (2022), we estimate a model of individual earnings, marriage, divorce, fertility, and nonlabor income, where key parameters vary with birth year. For the 1935–44, 1945–62, and 1967–80 birth cohorts, we use the model to measure the dynamic responses of earnings, marital status, and family income to various labor market shocks, education differences, and permanent wage heterogeneity. For each cohort, we also provide gender-specific estimates of the contribution of education, permanent wages, labor market shocks, spouse characteristics, spouse wage shocks, and marital histories to the variance of lifetime family income. For both the dynamic responses and the variance decompositions, we isolate the importance of effects on marriage probabilities and on spouse characteristics (sorting). We find that gender asymmetries are substantially smaller for more recent cohorts. The decline reflects the increase in the labor supply of married women as well as other changes. We also find that own characteristics have become increasingly important in the determination of lifetime family income for women, while variation in spouse characteristics has become less important. The opposite is true for men. Gender differences in the sources of inequality in lifetime family income have narrowed.