Marital Timing and Earnings over the Life Course

Krista Payne, Bowling Green State University

Abstract

Married people are consistently found to be better off economically than all categories of unmarried people. It is clear marital decisions have economic consequences. However, the decision of when to marry also appears to have economic consequences. Past scholarship reveals that marrying early puts one at risk of low educational attainment, lower average income, holding lower-status jobs, and a higher probability of divorce. While considerable attention has been given to the consequences of early marriage, the consequences of late marriage have hardly been studied. The term marital timing has been used interchangeably with the term early marriage and as a by-product research on the effects of late marriage has been neglected. It is also important not to confuse the economic consequences of marital timing with consequences of its antecedents. Using twenty waves of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, spanning twenty-four years, this study examines the economic antecedents of marital timing and the effect of marrying early, on-time, or late on individual earnings over time separately by gender. Indeed, I find different levels of economic resources influence marital timing; however, men’s probability of an early or late marriage is not affected by the same types of resources that affect women’s probability of an early or late marriage. Additionally, marital timing significantly affects men and women’s yearly earnings over time. Furthermore, I find the effect of marital timing on earnings is influenced by multiple levels of resources. However, gender differences in the nature of these relationships exist. In addition, while the resource measures examined explain the earnings differentials by marital timing among women, they do not do so for men.