Job Market Paper

Dual Earner Migration, Earnings, and Unemployment Insurance

Most Recent Draft: 11/20/2020

Dual-earner couples’ decisions of where to live and work often result in one spouse — the trailing spouse — experiencing earnings losses at the time of a move. This paper examines how married couples’ migration decisions differentially impact men’s and women’s earnings and the role that policy can play in improving post-move outcomes for trailing spouses. I use panel data from the NLSY97 and a generalized difference-in-differences design to show that access to unemployment insurance (UI) for trailing spouses increases long-distance migration rates by 1.9-2.3 percentage points (38-46%) for married couples. I find that women are the primary beneficiaries of this policy, with higher UI uptake following a move and higher annual earnings of $4,500-$12,000 three years post-move. I then build and estimate a structural model of dual-earner couples’ migration decisions to evaluate the effects of a series of counterfactual policies. I show that increasing the likelihood of joint distant offers substantively increase migration rates, increases women’s post-move employment rates, and improves both men and women’s earnings growth at the time of a move. However, unconditional subsidies for migration that are not linked to having an offer in hand at the time of the move reduce post-move earnings for both men and women, with stronger effects for women.