Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations


A Cohort Comparison of Institutional Participation and Family Formation During Young Adulthood

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Wendy D. Manning (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Beth Sanders (Other)

Third Advisor

Kelly Stamper Balistreri (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Karen Guzzo (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Kara Joyner (Committee Member)


Men’s family formation patterns have changed throughout the past several decades. Fewer men, for example, experience marriage during young adulthood (ages 18-29), and the transition to fatherhood before marriage has become more common for contemporary cohorts. At the same time, reductions in employment rates and increases in enrollment within colleges or universities indicate young men’s experiences and socioeconomic opportunities have also shifted. These concurrent changes in bring into question the extent to which shifts in family formation trends are a result of shifts in men’s experiences during young adulthood. Using the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth 1979 and 1997, this dissertation examines whether cohort differences in men’s entry into marriage and premarital fatherhood are explained by changing participation in four social institutions: education, employment, military service, and incarceration. Analyses begin by using decomposition and standardization techniques to test whether cohort differences in young men’s odds of marriage are explained by changes in the shares of men who engage in these institutions. Next, analyses consider how changes in the experiences of young adults have contributed to the growing prevalence of premarital fatherhood. Finally, analyses test the factors that explain Black men’s reductions in marriage and increases in premarital fatherhood. School enrollment and incarceration are negatively associated with men’s entry into first marriage, whereas employment as a civilian or military servicemember is positively linked with these odds (relative to men who were in none of these institutions). The majority of cohort differences in marriage formation are driven by changes in the characteristics of young men. School enrollment is also negatively linked with premarital fatherhood, with increases in the shares of young men enrolled in school reducing overall cohort differences in premarital fatherhood. Standardization suggests the expansion of cohabitation has contributed to much of the increase in premarital fatherhood. Finally, Black men on active duty experienced greater odds of entry into marriage, regardless of cohort, whereas employment and school enrollment were only linked to Black men’s chances of marriage among those born in the early 1960s. Black men’s increase in premarital fertility appears to be largely driven by postponed and forgone marriage.