Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Household Production and Sexual Orientation

Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Household Production and Sexual Orientation

Article excerpt

Homosexual unions do not result in children, and generally they have a less extensive division of labor and less marital-specific capital than heterosexual marriages.

(Becker 1981, p. 225)


It is conventional economic wisdom that the gains from household production are lower for same-sex couples compared to opposite-sex couples because the former obviously lack the benefits that come from a sexual division of labor within the home. Even with the presence of children, these specialization gains would seem lacking because differences across sexes are absent, and therefore, opposite-sexed couples should receive larger household benefits. Indeed, the lower benefits within same-sex households have long been a cornerstone in the explanation of duration instability among these couples. (1)

Yet, none of these long-held beliefs are based on any large sample empirical estimates.

The challenges in estimating the value of household commodities among same-sex couples are large, and until very recently, were impossible to overcome. Gays and lesbians make up a very small fraction of any population. Among this small fraction, few are in common law or married relationships, and still fewer have children. Furthermore, within the United States same-sex marriage is legal only within a handful of states, and though the number of states continues to grow, no census or other large probability sample directly identifies same-sex couples. In smaller samples that might identify same-sex couples, seldom is data collected on time devoted to household activities, or the labor market variables necessary to estimate home production. So on the one hand, estimation requires a specific set of economic data on time use, market activity, and expenditures that are lacking in any sociological data that includes same-sex couples. While on the other hand, large probability sample datasets with market and household information often fail to identify sexual orientation.

The 2006 Canada census solves almost all of these problems. (2) First, same-sex marriage became legal across all of Canada in 2005. (3) As a result, the 2006 census self-identifies same-sex couples: both married and common law. (4) The census also measures time use within the household, income (based on tax records), and other demographic characteristics for both spouses. Most importantly, the census is large enough to contain a random sample of same-sex couples to allow for estimation. Thus, although not perfect, the census contains the minimum amount of information necessary to estimate differences in the household production functions across different couple-types.

Given that the household commodity output is unobservable, it is necessary to do this estimation within the context of a specific household model. Here the Graham and Green (1984) model is used. (5) This model exploits a simple Cobb-Douglas production function, in which household output depends on the amount of time each household member devotes to the household and the amount of market goods that are utilized. The empirical findings are rather interesting, and robust. First, same-sex couples respond differently than opposite-sex couples to time cost changes with respect to their allocation of household time. This finding is consistent with other social science findings that show same-sex couples are less likely to specialize within the household. However, by far the most important element in determining the value of total household production is the value of market goods employed. As a result, differences in the value of household production that arise over differences in the sexual division of labor between same-and opposite-sex homes are swamped by the role that market goods play in producing household commodities. Thus, based on the findings here, one would conclude that the loss of a sexual division of labor is not an important factor in the determination of the value of household production for gays and lesbians. …

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