NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Women's Income and Marriage Markets in the United States: Evidence from the Civil War Pension

Laura Salisbury

NBER Working Paper No. 20201
Issued in June 2014
NBER Program(s):   DAE   LS

Under the Civil War pension act of 1862, the widow of a Union Army soldier was entitled to a pension if her husband died as a direct result of his military service; however, she lost her right to the pension if she remarried. I analyze the effect this had on the rate of remarriage among these widows. This study fits into a modern literature on the behavioral effects of marriage penalties. In addition, it offers a unique perspective on 19th century marriage markets, which are little understood. Using a new database compiled from widows' pension files, I estimate the effect of the pension on the hazard rate of remarriage using variation in pension processing times. Taking steps to account for the potential endogeneity of processing times to marital outcomes, I find that receiving a pension lowered the hazard rate of remarriage by 25 percent, which implies an increase in the median time to remarriage of 3.5 years. Among older women and women with children, this effect is substantially greater. This indicates that women were willing to substitute away from marriage if the alternatives were favorable enough, suggesting that changes in the desirability of marriage to women may account for some of the aggregate patterns of first marriage documented for this period.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20201

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