Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender Asymmetry in Family Migration: Occupational Inequality or Interspousal Comparative Advantage?

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender Asymmetry in Family Migration: Occupational Inequality or Interspousal Comparative Advantage?

Article excerpt

This paper examines gender inequality in the determinants of job-related long-distance migration among married dual-earner couples during the 1980s and 1990s. The analysis tested the structural explanation, which attributes gender asymmetry in family migration to structural inequality in the labor market, and the comparative advantage explanation derived from relative resource theory. The analysis used individual- and family-level data from 5,504 Panel Study of Income Dynamics families, occupation-level data from the 1980-2000 U.S. Decennial Censuses Integrated Public Use Micro Samples, and discrete-time event history models. Gender differences in the determinants of family migration were not explained by gender differences in occupational characteristics, but the results partially support the relative resource theory by illustrating the conditioning influence of interspousal comparative advantage.

Key Words: demography, dual-earner, family economics, family roles, labor market.

Despite significant increases in women's educational attainment, labor force attachment, occupational prestige, and earnings, the long-distance migration of families continues to be motivated disproportionately by the employment dynamics of the male partners in dual-earner families. Empirical studies show that neither the prestige of the wife's occupation nor the proportionate size of her contribution to the total family income significantly affects family migration decisions (Duncan & Perrucci, 1976; Lichter, 1983; Long, 1974; Shihadeh, 1991). Researchers often attribute this gender asymmetry to familial gender ideology, yet definitive conclusions about the role of gender ideology in family migration behavior are premature, because theoretically justified alternative explanations have not been adequately tested. In particular, the literature lacks systematic tests of both the structural explanation, which attributes gender asymmetry in family migration to structural inequality in the labor market, and of the comparative advantage explanation derived from relative resource theory. Consequently, an accurate accounting of the individual, familial, and structural causes of gender asymmetry in family migration has yet to be accomplished.

The topic of migration among dual-earner families is of growing importance to the experience of individuals and families in the United States as two-income families have become demographically predominant and as lateral employment transitions have become a primary mechanism for career development and earnings growth. This paper adds to the family migration literature in three ways. First, by focusing on job-related long-distance migration among dual-earner married couples during the 1980s and 1990s, this analysis offers a more specific test of the microeconomic model of family migration than most prior research has accomplished. Second, by incorporating measures of relevant occupational characteristics, this paper accomplishes a more direct test of the structural explanation than has yet been reported. Third, utilizing parallel data for partners in married couples to operationalize the concept of comparative advantage allows a novel model specification that directly tests the implications of relative resource theory for gender asymmetry in family migration.

Gender Symmetry in Family Migration: Theoretical Perspectives and Empirical Evidence

Employment considerations are the main motivation for long-distance migration (Boyle, Feng, & Gayle, 2009; Long, 1988), so human capital characteristics tend to be among the primary determinants of long-distance migration (DaVanzo, 1978; Long, 1988). In the context of dual-earner families, however, the determinants of migration are less distinct because relocation decisions are family based whereas labor market opportunities are individually based.

According to Mincer's (1978) microeconomic theory of migration, the prevailing model of family migration, families move when the benefits to the family from doing so outweigh the costs, and family utility, a concept that is most often measured monetarily, is thereby maximized. …

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