Married Women's Property Law Reform and the American Family

Evan Roberts, Victoria University of Wellington

Nineteenth century reforms to married women's property laws in the American states strengthened the bargaining power of wives within marriage. The immediate effects of reform were on education and marriage age. There were long run effects on married women's labor force participation. Girls who matured and married after reform were most affected. The immediate effect of passing property laws was a significant increase in girls' schooling, and delays in marriage. Passage of married women's property acts between 1870 and 1900 increased the chances a girl would attend school by approximately 8%. The property laws were also associated with women delaying marriage by approximately a year. On average, women who delayed marriage a year accumulated an additional 3-6 months paid work before marriage. The cohorts most affected by property law reform before marriage had significantly increased labor force participation within marriage in the early twentieth century, compared to preceding generations.

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Presented in Poster Session 7