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Women's Age at First Marriage and Marital Instability in the United States: Differences by Race and Ethnicity

Listed author(s):
  • Lehrer, Evelyn L.

    ()

    (University of Illinois at Chicago)

  • Son, Yeon Jeong

    (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Registered author(s):

    The age at which women enter first marriage is known to be a major factor in marital instability. But to date possible differences by race/ ethnicity have not been examined. We use data from the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth to examine differences by race/ethnicity in the shape of the curve relating women's age at entry into first marriage to marital instability. We find that for non-Hispanic white women, the probability of dissolution falls with age up to ages 30-32 and thereafter the curve flattens out. For black women, marital instability decreases with age only up to ages 24-26. For Hispanic women, marital instability falls from age ≤20 to 21-23 and then the curve flattens out; beyond ages 30-32 the curve turns upward. We suggest explanations for these patterns based in part on differentials in the associations of age at marriage with education and non-marital fertility. For white women, but not for their black and Hispanic counterparts, delayed entry into marriage is associated with a small increase in non-marital fertility and a pronounced increase in education. The common practice in the demographic literature in the U.S. of conducting pooled analyses – with simple controls for black, Hispanic, and other – can lead to misleading conclusions. Our findings underscore the desirability of conducting separate analyses by race / ethnicity wherever possible.

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    Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 10629.

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    Length: 28 pages
    Date of creation: Mar 2017
    Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp10629
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    1. Christine Schwartz & Robert Mare, 2005. "Trends in educational assortative marriage from 1940 to 2003," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 42(4), pages 621-646, November.
    2. Becker, Gary S & Landes, Elisabeth M & Michael, Robert T, 1977. "An Economic Analysis of Marital Instability," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(6), pages 1141-1187, December.
    3. Evelyn Lehrer, 2008. "Age at marriage and marital instability: revisiting the Becker–Landes–Michael hypothesis," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 21(2), pages 463-484, April.
    4. Sara Mclanahan, 2004. "Diverging destinies: How children are faring under the second demographic transition," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 41(4), pages 607-627, November.
    5. Chiswick, Carmel U & Lehrer, Evelyn L, 1990. "On Marriage-Specific Human Capital: Its Role as a Determinant of Remarriage," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 3(3), pages 193-213, October.
    6. Linda J. Waite & Evelyn L. Lehrer, 2003. "The Benefits from Marriage and Religion in the United States: A Comparative Analysis," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 29(2), pages 255-275.
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