Valuing Lost Home Production in Dual-Earner Couples
John P. Laitner, Christopher House and Dmitriy Stolyarov
Economists’ principal tool for studying household behavioral responses to changes in tax and other government policies, and the magnitude and determinants of private saving, is the life-cycle model. The purpose of this paper is to attempt to incorporate into that model one of the most conspicuous changes in the U.S. economy in the last 50 years, the rise in labor market participation for married women. The increased presence of married women in the labor force has obvious benefits: women now earn much more income than they did in the past. On the other hand, working women presumably spend less time doing housework and other types of home production, and the forgone value of time at home reduces the net benefit of their work in the market. Conventional accounts do not provide measurements of the costs of lost home production, but we attempt to use comparisons of household net worth at retirement to deduce valuations indirectly. This paper modifies a standard life-cycle model to include women’s labor supply decisions, estimates key parameters of the new specification, and attempts to assess the significance of rising female labor market participation for aggregate national saving in the U.S. Using panel data from the Health and Retirement Study, we find that the difference between measured labor market earnings for married women and earnings net of the value of lost home production seems moderately small - about 30 percent - and that the corresponding long-run effect on the overall rate of private saving is minor.