Equality Pays: Equal Pay Laws and Women’s Life Choices


Improved labor market opportunities for women increase returns to human capital investments and the opportunity cost of marriage and childbearing. This paper uses 1940-1980 U.S. Census data to examine whether equal pay laws designed to reduce sex discrimination influenced women’s educational, marital, and fertility decisions. We exploit variation in state-level equal pay laws in place prior to the federal Equal Pay and Civil Rights Acts to compare outcomes among young women who came of age in states with sex discrimination laws in place to those of similar women in states without such laws. Our findings indicate that women who grew up in states with equal pay laws are more likely to attend and complete college than their counterparts in other states. They are also less likely to marry and have children, and more likely to delay marriage and childbearing if they do become wives and mothers. To our knowledge, this is the first paper to examine the impact of antidiscrimination laws on women’s educational, marital, and fertility choices, and we find that antidiscrimination laws have impacts for women that extend beyond the labor market.

Pamela Meyerhofer
Pamela Meyerhofer

I am an Economist at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). My research is centered on how women make decisions about work and family and how policy impacts these decisions. My work lies at the intersection of labor economics, health economics, family demography, and policy.