New Evidence Against a Causal Marriage Wage Premium
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Recent research has shown that men’s wages rise more rapidly than expected prior to marriage, but interpretations diverge on whether this indicates selection or a causal effect of anticipating marriage. We seek to adjudicate this debate by bringing together literatures on (1) the male marriage wage premium; (2) selection into marriage based on men’s economic circumstances; and (3) the transition to adulthood, during which both union formation and unusually rapid improvements in work outcomes often occur. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, we evaluate these perspectives. We show that wage declines predate rather than follow divorce, indicating no evidence that staying married benefits men’s wages. We find that older grooms experience no unusual wage patterns at marriage, suggesting that the observed marriage premium may simply reflect co-occurrence with the transition to adulthood for younger grooms. We show that men entering shotgun marriages experience similar premarital wage gains as other grooms, casting doubt on the claim that anticipation of marriage drives wage increases. We conclude that the observed wage patterns are most consistent with men marrying when their wages are already rising more rapidly than expected and divorcing when their wages are already falling, with no additional causal effect of marriage on wages.
KeywordsMarriage Divorce Wages Transition to adulthood Panel data models
We are grateful to Javier García-Manglano, Florencia Torche, Christopher Winship, and anonymous Demography reviewers for helpful comments, and to Siwei Cheng for both comments and sharing an early version of her manuscript. Lundberg received support from the Undergraduate Research Scholars program of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University and from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number P2CH0047879 and under Award Number T32HD007163. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, May 2014, Boston, MA. Replication code is available on the Harvard Dataverse at doi:10.7910/DVN/X9528P (http://dx.doi.org/10.7910/DVN/X9528P).
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