Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fracking boom's pay raise for less-educated men led to more babies and unwed mothers, says study

In rural areas that experienced a fracking boom, birth rates soared, but so did the number of unwed mothers, says a study by economists at the University of Maryland published in The National Bureau of Economic Research. Researchers, who said less-educated people are more likely to have children out of wedlock, wanted to examine if an "increase in potential earnings of less-educated men would correspondingly lead to an increase in marriage and a reduction in non-marital births."

In rural parts of Texas, Wyoming, Pennsylvania and Colorado, the oil and gas industry "created plentiful and lucrative blue-collar jobs and a bonanza of attractive bachelors," Lydia DePillis reports for the Houston Chronicle. "Predictably, childbearing rates rose in those areas: About three more births per thousand women, or three percent above the baseline rate. But those well-paid jobs for men without college diplomas did nothing to bring down the rate of births to unwed women, which now account for 40 percent of American babies, an all-time high."

Researchers speculated that "social attitudes are playing a greater role than economic factors, as out-of-wedlock births no longer carry the stigma they once did," DePillis writes. "To further explore the idea that social norms shape the decision to marry and bear children, the paper compared the fracking boom in the 2000s with the rise of the coal industry in Appalachia in the 1970s. Then, as now, more babies were born as incomes improved. But back then, the share of babies born to unwed mothers declined substantially, suggesting that economic trends and social expectations were both working in favor of more traditional family structures."

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