, Volume 54, Issue 3, pp 1007–1028 | Cite as

New Evidence Against a Causal Marriage Wage Premium

  • Alexandra Killewald
  • Ian Lundberg


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.


Marriage 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 (

Supplementary material

13524_2017_566_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2.2 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 2211 kb)


  1. Becker, G. S. (1991). A treatise on the family (Enlarged ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Brand, J. E., & Xie, Y. (2010). Who benefits most from college? Evidence for negative selection in heterogeneous economic returns to higher education. American Sociological Review, 75, 273–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Budig, M. J., & Lim, M. (2016). Cohort differences and the marriage premium: Emergence of gender-neutral household specialization effects. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78, 1352–1370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2016a). National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 cohort, 1979–2012 (Rounds 1–25). Columbus: Center for Human Resource Research, The Ohio State University [producer and distributor].Google Scholar
  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2016b). National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 cohort, 1997–2013 (Rounds 1–16). Chicago, IL National Opinion Research Center, the University of Chicago [producer]; and Columbus: Center for Human Resource Research, The Ohio State University [distributor].Google Scholar
  6. Charles, K. K., & Stephens, M., Jr. (2004). Job displacement, disability, and divorce. Journal of Labor Economics, 22, 489–522.Google Scholar
  7. Cheng, S. (2016). The accumulation of (dis)advantage: The intersection of gender and race in the long-term wage effect of marriage. American Sociological Review, 81, 29–56.Google Scholar
  8. Chun, H., & Lee, I. (2001). Why do married men earn more: Productivity or marriage selection? Economic Inquiry, 39, 307–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cohen, P. N. (2002). Cohabitation and the declining marriage premium for men. Work and Occupations, 29, 346–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cornwell, C., & Rupert, P. (1997). Unobservable individual effects, marriage and the earnings of young men. Economic Inquiry, 35, 285–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dougherty, C. (2006). The marriage earnings premium as a distributed fixed effect. Journal of Human Resources, 41, 433–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Duncan, G. J., Wilkerson, B., & England, P. (2006). Cleaning up their act: The effects of marriage and cohabitation on licit and illicit drug use. Demography, 43, 691–710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Edin, K., & Kefalas, M. (2005). Promises I can keep: Why poor women put motherhood before marriage. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  14. Ginther, D. K., & Zavodny, M. (2001). Is the male marriage premium due to selection? The effect of shotgun weddings on the return to marriage. Journal of Population Economics, 14, 313–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gorman, E. H. (2000). Marriage and money: The effect of marital status on attitudes toward pay and finances. Work and Occupations, 27, 64–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gray, J. S. (1997). The fall in men’s return to marriage: Declining productivity effects or changing selection? Journal of Human Resources, 32, 481–504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gupta, S. (1999). The effects of transitions in marital status on men’s performance of housework. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 700–711.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hersch, J., & Stratton, L. S. (2000). Household specialization and the male marriage wage premium. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 54, 78–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hogan, D. P., & Astone, N. M. (1986). The transition to adulthood. Annual Review of Sociology, 12, 109–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Killewald, A. (2013). A reconsideration of the fatherhood premium: Marriage, coresidence, biology, and fathers’ wages. American Sociological Review, 78, 96–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Killewald, A. (2016). Money, work, and marital stability: Assessing change in the gendered determinants of divorce. American Sociological Review, 81, 696–719.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Killewald, A., & Gough, M. (2013). Does specialization explain marriage penalties and premiums? American Sociological Review, 78, 477–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Korenman, S., & Neumark, D. (1991). Does marriage really make men more productive? Journal of Human Resources, 26, 282–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Loh, E. S. (1996). Productivity differences and the marriage wage premium for white males. Journal of Human Resources, 31, 566–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Loughran, D. S., & Zissimopoulos, J. M. (2009). Why wait? The effect of marriage and childbearing on the wages of men and women. Journal of Human Resources, 44, 326–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. National Longitudinal Surveys. (2016). Jobs & employers. Washington, DC: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved from
  27. Nock, S. L. (1998). Marriage in men’s lives. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Oppenheimer, V. K. (2003). Cohabiting and marriage during young men’s career-development process. Demography, 40, 127–149.Google Scholar
  29. Oppenheimer, V. K., Kalmijn, M., & Lim, N. (1997). Men’s career development and marriage timing during a period of rising inequality. Demography, 34, 311–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Petersen, T., Penner, A. M., & Høgsnes, G. (2011). The male marital wage premium: Sorting vs. differential pay. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 64, 283–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pollmann-Schult, M. (2011). Marriage and earnings: Why do married men earn more than single men? European Sociological Review, 27, 147–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rindfuss, R. R. (1991). The young adult years: Diversity, structural change, and fertility. Demography, 28, 493–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Shanahan, M. J. (2000). Pathways to adulthood in changing societies: Variability and mechanisms in life course perspective. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 667–692.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Smock, P. J., Manning, W. D., & Porter, M. (2005). “Everything’s there except money”: How money shapes decisions to marry among cohabitors. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 680–696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sobel, M. E. (2012). Does marriage boost men’s wages?: Identification of treatment effects in fixed effects regression models for panel data. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 107, 521–529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sweeney, M. M. (2002). Two decades of family change: The shifting economic foundations of marriage. American Sociological Review, 67, 132–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Waite, L. J., & Gallagher, M. (2000). The case for marriage: Why married people are happier, healthier, and better off financially. New York, NY: Broadway Books.Google Scholar
  38. Xie, Y., Raymo, J. M., Goyette, K., & Thornton, A. (2003). Economic potential and entry into marriage and cohabitation. Demography, 40, 351–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and Office of Population ResearchPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

Personalised recommendations