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Who Marries Differently-Aged Spouses?: Earnings, Ability and Appearance


  • Hani Mansour
  • Terra McKinnish


In direct contrast to conventional wisdom and most economic models of gender differences in age of marriage, we present robust evidence that men and women who are married to differently-aged spouses are negatively selected. Earnings analysis of married couples in the 1970, 1980, 1990 and 2000 Decennial Censuses finds that male earnings decrease with within-couple age difference, regardless of whether the man is older or younger than his wife. In contrast, female earnings increase with within-couple age difference. We argue and present evidence that women in differently-aged couples have higher earnings not because of positive selection, but because their hours of work increase in response to partnering with a lower earning man. We test for negative selection into differently-aged couples using three measures: average earnings per hour in occupation using Census data, cognitive skills assessments from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 cohort (NLSY79), and measures of physical appearance from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). The point estimates indicate negative selection on all of these characteristics, although statistical significance varies by outcome and sample.

Suggested Citation

  • Hani Mansour & Terra McKinnish, 2011. "Who Marries Differently-Aged Spouses?: Earnings, Ability and Appearance," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 1123, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:diw:diwwpp:dp1123

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hans Bloemen & Elena Stancanelli, 2007. "Modelling the employment and wage outcomes of spouses: is she outearning him?," Post-Print hal-01053593, HAL.
    2. French, Michael T. & Robins, Philip K. & Homer, Jenny F. & Tapsell, Lauren M., 2009. "Effects of physical attractiveness, personality, and grooming on academic performance in high school," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(4), pages 373-382, August.
    3. Hamermesh, Daniel S. & Abrevaya, Jason, 2013. "Beauty is the promise of happiness?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 351-368.
    4. Chiappori, Pierre-André & Oreffice, Sonia & Quintana-Domeque, Climent, 2010. "Matching with a Handicap: The Case of Smoking in the Marriage Market," IZA Discussion Papers 5392, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2007. "Marriage and Divorce: Changes and their Driving Forces," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 27-52, Spring.
    6. Grossbard-Shechtman, Shoshana Amyra & Neuman, Shoshana, 1988. "Women's Labor Supply and Marital Choice," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(6), pages 1294-1302, December.
    7. Coles, Melvyn & Francesconi, Marco, 2007. "On the Emergence of Toyboys: Equilibrium Matching with Ageing and Uncertain Careers," IZA Discussion Papers 2612, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    8. Aloysius Siow, 1998. "Differential Fecundity, Markets, and Gender Roles," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(2), pages 334-354, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Sonia Oreffice & Climent Quintana-Domeque, 2012. "A Matter of Weight? The Role of Spouses. Physical Attractiveness on Hours of Work," CHILD Working Papers Series 7, Centre for Household, Income, Labour and Demographic Economics (CHILD) - CCA.
    2. Pierre-André CHIAPPORI & Sonia OREFFICE & Climent QUINTANA-DOMEQUE, 2016. "Black-White Marital Matching: Race, Anthtopometrics and Socioeconomics," JODE - Journal of Demographic Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 82(4), pages 399-421, December.
    3. Sonia Oreffice & Climent Quintana-Domeque, 2012. "Fat spouses and hours of work: are body and Pareto weights correlated?," IZA Journal of Labor Economics, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 1(1), pages 1-21, December.

    More about this item


    marital sorting; occupational choice; non-labor market outcomes;

    JEL classification:

    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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