Women and Children First? The Advancement of Women and Investments in Children in the Historical United States

Grant Miller, Stanford Medical School and National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Women’s empowerment is a central objective of development agendas and social policies around the world. It has intrinsic value as well as the potential to improve child health and well-being. The objective of this study is to estimate the consequences of several key historical policies to improve the status of women in the United States. Specifically, it analyzes changes in state laws governing divorce, alimony, and suffrage rights between 1870 and 1940 using novel data from historical legal archives, population censuses, and mortality statistics reports. Techniques that better allow causal inferences to be drawn are used, and their assumptions are examined in detail. The study will provide new evidence about the complex consequences of women’s empowerment for family dynamics and composition as well as the well-being of women, men, and children.

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Presented in Session 59: Family Patterns in Historical Perspective