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Essays on the Rising Demand for Convenience in Meal Provisioning in the United States

Household food budgets offer a window on consumers' demand for convenience. During the 1980s and 1990s, three shifts likely promoted an increase in the share of the food budget devoted to convenient meal options, namely meals out and prepared foods: the growing number of hours that women spent in paid work, the growing opportunity cost of women's time spent doing housework, and the drop in the price of food relative to all other goods. I test whether the impact of these economic trends (on food budget allocation) was mediated by a change in the impact of children on household meal allocation. I find support for this hypothesis in a model of food away expenditures, which likely reflects two unmeasured shifts. First, (own) child care and household production of meals apparently became substitutes rather than complements. Second, a range of both prepared foods and family-friendly restaurants became available. The growing demand for time-saving meal options, including frozen food and meals out, has important implications for a core determinant of living standards: the ability to harness scale economies from home production of meals. I test whether greater reliance on convenient meals reduced household-level economies of scale. Other factors could mediate against, or even offset such a loss, including technological advances in the production and distribution of food. Using Engel curve analyses, I find that scale economies fell from 1980 to 2000, thereby reducing living standards; my lower- and upper-bound estimates of the drop are 44 percent and 110 percent respectively. Economies of scale are not simply a function of household size and composition, as standard equivalence scaling techniques suggest; they are affected by the ways that households trade non-market work and market substitutes. This dissertation contributes to the small literature that challenges the validity of fixed-parameter equivalence scales, such as the per capita scale, which ignore household production. I first attach plausible values to scale parameters and then compare equivalent-income trajectories of parents and non-parents across (standard) fixed parameter and (non-standard) time-varying equivalence scales. I present plausible lower- and upper-bound estimates of the rise in income inequality between parents and non-parents.