In 2003, Lisa Belkin’s New York Times Magazine article, “The Opt-Out Revolution,” reopened the debate about the reasons for persistent differences in women’s and men’s labor market outcomes. In particular, she argued that the women who might have been the professional equals of men chose not to be—these women “opted out” to raise their children. Shang and Weinberg (2009) find some evidence that college graduate women have begun to have more children, but these changes seem small relative to the Opt-In Revolution that began 50 years ago.
This paper quantifies the role of the Pill in catalyzing this revolution. As the Pill provided women with cheaper and more effective control over childbearing in late adolescence, they invested more in their human capital and careers. Most affected were women in the middle of the IQ distribution and with some college, who experienced remarkable wage gains over their lifetimes. To put our results into perspective, the Pill-induced effects on wages amount to roughly one-third of the total wage gains for women in their forties born from the mid-1940s to early 1950s.31 Our decomposition shows that almost two thirds of these Pill-induced gains (at the mean) can be attributed to increasing labor-market experience and another third is due to greater educational attainment and occupational upgrading.