What’s love got to do with it? Homogamy and dyadic approaches to understanding marital instability

Abstract

What determines marital instability is an important area of research for demography, sociology and economics, with a host of public policy implications. This paper improves our understanding of the issue through the use of rich longitudinal data and the application of advanced research approaches for one of the first times anywhere, and certainly uniquely for Australian data. The combination of method and recent Australian data represents a significant advance in this research area. Using data from waves 1–7 of Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey, 2,482 married couples—where both partners are respondents in the first wave—are traced over 6 years to identify factors associated with marital separation. The data are analysed dyadically; that is, the characteristics of both partners in each couple are considered in tandem. This allows assessment of whether marriages between partners with similar characteristics (homogamy) are more likely to last than are marriages between dissimilar partners, or whether particular characteristics of wives or husbands—independent of their partners’—are more strongly associated with marital stability. A Cox proportional hazards model with time-varying covariates is used to assess the association of characteristics with marital separation. Our most important contribution relates to the role of homogamy in marital stability or instability and in the context of spousal differences we find the following factors associated with higher risk of marital separation: age, education, preference for a child, and drinking and smoking behaviour. As well, there is a clear positive association between separation and: dissatisfaction with the relationship; husband’s unemployment and perceived financial stress; early age at marriage; separation of parents; second-plus marriage; resident children born before marriage; and low household income. The last of these findings should matter directly for public policy formulation.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The subjective rate of time preference reflects a household’s weighting of the value of future compared to current gains.

  2. 2.

    In the search model in the marriage market, the quality of the match relates to both the current relationship and the probability of finding the right future partner with the desired qualities (following Weiss 1997).

  3. 3.

    At this stage the modelling does not distinguish between children of both the couple and children of just one of the couple. There are considerable programming and interpretative issues associated with going an additional step and this should be considered to be a useful extension to be incorporated in future empirical work.

  4. 4.

    We also tested the role of husband’s education by itself by replacing the dyadic education variable with husband’s education classified in the same way as wife’s education. The result was that husbands with a ‘bachelor degree or above’ had a higher risk of separation than husbands who ‘did not complete high school’. This is essentially consistent with the dyadic variable results, where higher levels of education for the husband are associated with higher risks of separation.

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Acknowledgments

Analysis in this paper was carried out using Stata. This paper uses confidentialised unit record file from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. The HILDA Project was initiated and is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (MIAESR). Kiatanantha Lounkaew would like to acknowledge financial assistance from Dhurakij Pundit University (DPU). The findings and views reported in this paper, however, are those of the authors and should not be attributed to FaHCSIA, the MIAESR or DPU. We are grateful to Ruth Weston, several FaHCSIA colleagues, the editor and two anonymous referees, for valuable comments on drafts of this paper.

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Correspondence to Rebecca Kippen.

Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 3 and 4.

Table 3 Data description
Table 4 Dyadic data description

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Kippen, R., Chapman, B., Yu, P. et al. What’s love got to do with it? Homogamy and dyadic approaches to understanding marital instability. J Pop Research 30, 213–247 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12546-013-9108-y

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Keywords

  • Marriage
  • Marital separation
  • Divorce
  • Australia
  • Dyadic
  • Homogamy
  • HILDA