The Evolution of the Income Gradient in Marriage

Tara Watson, Princeton University
Sara McLanahan, Princeton University

This paper explores the evolution of the income gradient in the likelihood of marriage among men. We find that, in any given year, the relationship between income and marriage is strongly positive for men below the median income. Furthermore, the association between income and marriage has become more pronounced over time for low-income men. We propose an identity model to explain this change, in which the utility of marriage is a function of how closely the couple approximates an idealized marriage norm. Several factors have generated an increase in the household income of a typical married couple, thus raising the financial bar new couples attempt to reach before marrying.

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