Journal of Family and Economic Issues

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 86–101 | Cite as

The Changing Nature of the Association Between Student Loan Debt and Marital Behavior in Young Adulthood

  • Fenaba R. AddoEmail author
  • Jason N. Houle
  • Sharon Sassler
Original Paper


In this study, we compared young adults from the NLSY 1979 and the NLSY 1997 to examine how the relationship between student debt and the likelihood of marrying changed across cohorts, in light of the growing acceptance of non-marital cohabitation. In the 1997 cohort, student loan debt among college-attending young adults was associated with delays in marriage, but not in the 1979 cohort. Among men, the positive association between education debt and marriage in the 1979 cohort was no longer evident for the 1997 cohort of young men. Our findings provide further evidence that rising student debt is reshaping relationship formation among college-going youth, and that as cohabitation has become more widespread, social and economic disparities in who marries without cohabiting first have increased.


Cohabitation Marriage Student debt Young adulthood 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Fenaba Addo, Jason Houle, and Sharon Sassler declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This study uses publicly available secondary data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. The authors did not interview the respondents.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Consumer ScienceUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyDartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA
  3. 3.Department of Policy Analysis and ManagementCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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