Marriage May be Fun, But Not for Everyone

There’s a nice brief from Brookings about the economy and patterns in marriage in the United States. Here are a few highlights:

  • The marriage rate among young people continues to decrease, but the change is long-term and is not correlated with economic conditions. The divorce rate has also decreased.
  • The median age for marriage continues to rise (ex. 28 for men in 2009, compared to 23 in 1970)
  • More people are getting married for fun (hedonic marriages) rather than for the gains from specialization that come from traditional marriages in which a wife specializes in housework and a man specializes in labor market work (Gary Becker marriages).
  • The declining marriage rate has been heavily concentrated among women with less education: “those who likely have the least to gain from modern hedonic marriage.”

There is no shortage of theories about why low educated women don’t get married — the decline of traditional values, rising male incarceration rates, more segmentation in the marriage market (i.e. fewer college educated men willing to marry “downward”), and increasing economic self-sufficiency. The claim that less educated women have less to gain from hedonic marriage is a new one to me, however. Should we think about marriage and income as complements or substitutes? The hedonic argument (to caricature the point) seems to claim it is the former: being married has the most value if you have enough money to take vacations and go to the movies. This kind of seems to fly in the face of that old cliche… “we may not have a lot of money, but we still have each other.”

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About Brendan Saloner

I am a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholars Program. I completed a PhD in health policy at Harvard in 2012. My current research focuses on children's health, public programs, racial/ethnic disparities, and mental health. I am also interested in justice and health care.
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