Job Quality and the Educational Gradient in Entry Into Marriage and Cohabitation

Abstract

Men’s and women’s economic resources are important determinants of marriage timing. Prior demographic and sociological literature has often measured resources in narrow terms, considering employment and earnings and not more fine-grained measures of job quality. Yet, scholarship on work and inequality focuses squarely on declining job quality and rising precarity in employment and suggests that this transformation may matter for the life course. Addressing the disconnect between these two important areas of research, this study analyzes data on the 1980–1984 U.S. birth cohort from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 to examine the relationships between men’s and women’s job quality and their entry into marital or cohabiting unions. We advance existing literature by moving beyond basic measures of employment and earnings and investigating how detailed measures of job quality matter for union formation. We find that men and women in less precarious jobs—both jobs with standard work schedules and those that provide fringe benefits—are more likely to marry. Further, differences in job quality explain a significant portion of the educational gradient in entry into first marriage. However, these dimensions of job quality are not predictive of cohabitation.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    For employed person-weeks with no main job indicated, we designate the job with the largest number of hours as the main job.

  2. 2.

    We also check the robustness of the results to using a lag that measured the covariates at a point in time (rather than the 12-month average of the period 6–17 months prior). We test using lags that were 12 months prior and 6 months prior to the event month. These models show very similar results. However, for men, the fringe benefits scale is a weaker predictor of marriage when we use 12-month lags but a stronger predictor of marriage when we use 6-month lags compared with the preferred models. Additionally, for both the 12- and 6-month lag, the benefits scale coefficient predicts cohabitation entry more strongly than in the main models.

  3. 3.

    We also reestimate the models restricted to respondents who were cohabiting in the month prior to measurement of the dependent variable. The results are unchanged despite a large reduction in sample size: working a split/rotating shift remains negatively associated with marriage for women, hourly work remains negatively associated with marriage for men, and fringe benefits remain positively associated with marriage for both men and women. These predictors of first marriage entry are similar whether respondents enter marriage from cohabitation or not.

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Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge grant support from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth (Award No. 39092) and the UC Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. A previous version of this article was presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

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Schneider, D., Harknett, K. & Stimpson, M. Job Quality and the Educational Gradient in Entry Into Marriage and Cohabitation. Demography 56, 451–476 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-018-0749-5

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Keywords

  • Marriage
  • Cohabitation
  • Precarious employment
  • Inequality