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Long Term Marriage Patterns in the United States from Colonial Times tothe Present

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  • Michael R. Haines

Abstract

Marriage in colonial North America was notable for being early (for women) and marked by low percentages never marrying. This was different from the distinctive northwest European pattern of late marriage and high proportions never married late in life. But the underlying neolocal family formation behavior was the same in both colonial North America and the areas of origin of this population. Thus, Malthus was correct. Abundant resources rather than basic behavioral differences made early and extensive marriage possible in the colonies. Between 1800 and the present there have been long cycles in nuptiality. Since about 1800, female age at first marriage rose from relatively low levels to a peak around 1900. Thereupon a gradual decline commenced with a trough being reached about 1960 at the height of the baby boom. There then began another rapid upswing in female marriage age. Proportions never married at ages 45-54 replicated these cycles with a lag of about 20-30 years. Since 1880 (when comprehensive census data became available), male nuptiality patterns have generally paralleled those of women. Male marriage ages were higher than those of females with proportions never marrying also usually higher. Considerations of differentials by race and ethnicity are important in looking at the American experience over time. Black ages at marriage have, for example, moved from being lower to being higher than those for whites. More work is needed in the period 1800 to 1880 when we lack comprehensive census, vital, and other data.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Historical Working Papers with number 0080.

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Date of creation: Mar 1996
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Publication status: published as The History of the Family, Vol. 1, No. 1, (1996)
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0080

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  1. Michael R. Haines & Avery M. Guest, 1995. "Fertility and Marriage in New York State in the Era of the Civil War," NBER Historical Working Papers 0070, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Sundstrom, William A. & David, Paul A., 1988. "Old-age security motives, labor markets, and farm family fertility in antebellum American," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 25(2), pages 164-197, April.
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Cited by:
  1. Jeanne Lafortune, 2013. "Making Yourself Attractive: Pre-marital Investments and the Returns to Education in the Marriage Market," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 5(2), pages 151-78, April.
  2. Claudia Olivetti & M. Daniele Paserman, 2013. "In the Name of the Son (and the Daughter): Intergenerational Mobility in the United States, 1850-1930," NBER Working Papers 18822, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Michael R. Haines & J. David Hacker, 2006. "The Puzzle of the Antebellum Fertility Decline in the United States: New Evidence and Reconsideration," NBER Working Papers 12571, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Josh Angrist, 2002. "How Do Sex Ratios Affect Marriage And Labor Markets? Evidence From America'S Second Generation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(3), pages 997-1038, August.
  5. Josh Angrist, 2000. "Consequences of Imbalanced Sex Ratios: Evidence from America's Second Generation," NBER Working Papers 8042, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Aloysius Siow, 1998. "Differential Fecundity, Markets, and Gender Roles," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(2), pages 334-354, April.
  7. Gillian Hamilton & Aloysius Siow, 1999. "Marriage and Fertility in a Catholic Society: Eighteenth-Century Quebec," Working Papers siow-99-01, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
  8. Tomas Cvrcek, 2010. "America's settling down: How Better Jobs and Falling Immigration led to a Rise in Marriage, 1880 – 1930," NBER Working Papers 16161, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Gillian Hamilton & Aloysius Siow, 2007. "Class, Gender and Marriage," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 10(4), pages 549-575, October.
  10. Oded Galor & David N. Weil, 1998. "Population, Technology, and Growth: From the Malthusian Regime to the Demographic Transition and Beyond," NBER Working Papers 6811, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Aloysius Siow & Xiaodong Zhu, 2002. "Differential Fecundity and Gender-Biased Parental Investments in Health," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 5(4), pages 999-1024, October.
  12. David S. Loughran, 2000. "Does Variance Matter? The Effect of Rising Male Inequality on Female Age at First Marriage," Working Papers 00-12, RAND Corporation Publications Department.

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