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Legalising abortion increases a woman's economic power

31 August 2005

The legalisation of abortion and innovations in birth control have increased a wife's clout in the home, according to an economics model that will be presented at the 2005 World Congress of the Econometric Society, which is hosted by UCL (University College London). Results show that all women are better off, including those don't use birth control, but only if it's available to single women as well.

The paper by Assistant Professor Sonia Oreffice of Clemson University and Professor Pierre-Andre Chiappori of Columbia University , US , applied mathematical modelling to bargaining power in marriages. Their findings show women have more say in a relationship and more control of the purse strings when birth control is available to all.

The researchers developed the model by analysing the fertility and marital decisions women take under different conditions depending on whether various forms of birth control are legally available, what they gain from a marriage and environmental factors such as whether there are more women than men and the possible presence of women who don't use the birth control technology.

They considered the existence of three classes of women: those who like children enough to be willing to be a mother even when single; those who want to have a child only if married; and those who never want to have a child. They then considered whether some women want to use birth control and what happens when there is either a surplus of men or women.

Assistant Professor Oreffice explains: “We started with the case of an excess supply of men when birth control is available. For women that plan to have kids, the technology is of no consequence. For those that don't, the new technology improves their ability to reach that goal. Clearly, all the gain goes to the wife.”

“More interesting is when there is an excess supply of women. In general, married women who decide to have a child also benefit from the technology. The distribution of household resources is driven by the marital and child bearing decisions of the last woman to get married, who is known in the model as the ‘marginal woman'.

“If the marginal woman is indifferent between getting married and remaining single without kids the new technology empowers her. The nature of a matching model, however, implies that any improvement to her situation benefits all married women, because all men end up with the same payoff as the marginal woman's husband.”

By looking at US historical data on the introduction of the pill, which initially was only available to married women, they show if birth control is restricted to those that are married then a woman's power isn't increased. The researchers say this is because single women who don't want children will now compete to get married to be able to use the pill and therefore will decrease the welfare of previously married women.

Assistant Professor Sonia Oreffice of Clemson University will present the paper, ‘Abortion and female empowerment: a marriage market analysis' on Saturday 20 August 2005 between 11.15 and 12.45 BST.

A copy of the paper is available on request from the UCL press office.

For further information, please contact:

Assistant Professor Sonia Oreffice
Clemson University
Email: oreffic@clemson.edu
Mobile : + (33) 5 600 3397

Judith H Moore
UCL Media Relations Manager
Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 7678
Mobile : +44 (0) 77 333 075 96
Email: Judith.moore@ucl.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

About the World Congress of the Econometric Society

The Econometric Society is the leading international learned society in the field of economics, and its quinquennial world congress is recognised as the most prestigious in economics. UCL is hosting the ninth Econometric Society World Congress from 18-24 August 2005, which is the first time the Congress has been held in London and has not been hosted by a UK institute for 35 years. A full copy of the programme can be accessed on the 2005 Econometric Society World Congress website: http://www.eswc2005.com/

About the UCL Department of Economics

The Chair of Political Economy at UCL was created in 1828 establishing the first Department of Economics in England . The modern department has an outstanding international reputation in key areas of current research including applied theory, microeconometrics, game theory, labour economics, development economics, macroeconomics, industrial economics and environmental economics. It is one of only four economics departments in the UK to achieve the 'double 5*' rating in the two most recent (2001) national Research Assessment Exercises (RAE).