Bargaining Power in Marriage: Earnings, Wage Rates and Household Production

Robert A. Pollak

NBER Working Paper No. 11239
Issued in April 2005
NBER Program(s):   LS

What determines bargaining power in marriage? This paper argues that wage rates, not earnings, determine well-being at the threat point and, hence, determine bargaining power. Observed earnings at the bargaining equilibrium may differ from earnings at the threat point because hours allocated to market work at the bargaining solution may differ from hours allocated to market work at the threat point. In the divorce threat model, for example, a wife who does not work for pay while married might do so following a divorce; hence, her bargaining power would be related to her wage rate, not to her earnings while married. More generally, a spouse whose earnings are high because he or she chooses to allocate more hours to market work, and correspondingly less to household production and leisure, does not have more bargaining power. But a spouse whose earnings are high because of a high wage rate does have more bargaining power. Household production has received little attention in the family bargaining literature. The output of household production is analogous to earnings, and a spouse's productivity in household production is analogous to his or her wage rate. Thus, in a bargaining model with household production, a spouse's productivity in home production is a source of bargaining power.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w11239

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