Three Essays on Labor Economics: Women and Immigrants in the Labor Market

Patricia Saenz

Major Professor: Bryan D Caplan, PhD, Department of Economics

Committee Members: Walter E. Williams, Carlos D. Ramirez

Online Location, #D150
April 28, 2020, 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM


This dissertation explores some of the current issues affecting the female and immigrant portions of the labor force, such as the gender wage gap and the path to legality for undocumented immigrants. Its aim is to shed light into some of the dynamics that are at play in the complex realms of women and immigrants in the workforce; in particular, to look at some of the obstacles that prevent their free and full participation in the U.S. labor force.

Chapter 1 considers the recent trends exhibited by the female labor force participation rates by ethnicity. Labor force participation rates for women increased steadily over the course of the twentieth century, but have declined since the year 2000. This has been the case for all population groups, except for one: Hispanic women. Their participation has increased since then --even through the Great Recession-- while all other groups' participation has declined even more sharply than before. Explanations for the decline of labor force participation rates include work force age, the return to school, and child care issues particularly in the case of women. This chapter finds that a lower reliance on market childcare allowed Hispanic females to remain in the labor force, thus making them "recession-proof".

Chapter 2 looks into social norms as a potential explanatory factor for the current gender wage gap. In general, choice of marriage and childbearing are the preeminent behavioral explanations for the yet unexplained fraction of the gender wage gap. Recent literature explores to what extent these choices lead to a bigger gap and what social norms are behind that. It has been proposed that traditional gender roles cause a voluntary reduction in earnings in the case of married women. This paper utilizes political, geographic, and religious proxies for traditional beliefs to explore that claim and finds that location and job availability appear to drive the income gap between never married women and men, whereas political and religious proxies for traditional beliefs have a larger impact on the income gap between married women and men.

Chapter 3 analyzes the potential effects of legality on the labor decisions of unauthorized immigrants. Unauthorized immigrants have been largely perceived as failing to prosper economically, or as showing poor "market citizenship", and therefore not deserving of citizenship status. Using a new methodology of imputation to generate estimates around the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), this paper explores that notion, together with the idea of "citizen advantage", to show that the causality is actually reversed: that integrating otherwise unauthorized immigrants into the legal society allows for a less constrained decision optimization process, which in turn results in them pursuing economic prosperity, not only for themselves, but also for their communities.