Marriage markets during the transition to adulthood in the United States




McClendon, David Michael

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The marriage market is a fundamental concept in social-demographic work on marriage and family patterns because it draws attention to the consequences of population structure and social organization for what many consider to be personal decisions about whether, when, and who to marry. I use data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 on a contemporary cohort of young adults in the United States to update our understanding of how marriage markets influence marriage timing and partner selection in light of rapid social, economic, and demographic changes of the past half century. By adopting a marriage-market approach, I also offer a new perspective on social forces behind recent family trends and clarify their significance for the strength of social boundaries in society. First, I examine the consequences of sex ratios--a key demographic characteristic of the marriage market--for men's marriage behavior. Contrary to existing theories, I find that the sex ratio's influence depends on men's life course stage, union status, and education. The results support theories that emphasize social context and growing economic inequality, rather than innate gender differences, to explain recent marriage declines in the United States. Next, I turn to the religious composition of the marriage market to understand religious intermarriage trends. I find that higher concentrations of same-faith partners are associated with increases in religious homogamy (relative to intermarriage) as well as marriage timing. The results imply that spouse's religion remains relevant to marriage decisions in young adulthood, even as religious intermarriage has become more commonplace. Finally, I consider the role of schools in sorting partners. Drawing on newly collected college transcript data, I focus on young adults with some college and ask whether college attendance provides opportunities to meet college-educated partners that improve their marriage prospects relative to peers with no college experience. The results offer mixed support for my hypotheses and imply that schools will likely play a smaller role in educational assortative mating as ages at marriage continue to climb. Overall, this dissertation improves our understanding of marriage markets and their consequences for marriage and partnering behavior in young adulthood.




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