Job quality and the educational gradient in entry into marriage and cohabitation

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Daniel Schneider, University of California, Berkeley
Kristen Harknett, University of California, San Francisco
Matthew Stimpson, University of California, Berkeley


Men’s and women’s economic resources are important determinants of marriage timing. Prior demographic and sociological literature has often measured resources in narrow terms, considering employment and earnings and not more fine-grained measures of job quality. Yet, scholarship on work and inequality focuses squarely on declining job quality and rising precarity in employment and suggests that this transformation may matter for the life course. Addressing the disconnect between these two important areas of research, this paper analyzes data on the 1980-1984 U.S. birth cohort from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 to examine the relationships between men’s and women’s economic circumstances and their entry into marital or cohabiting unions. We advance existing literature by moving beyond basic measures of employment and earnings and investigating how detailed measures of job quality matter for union formation. We find that men and women in less precarious jobs – jobs with standard work schedules and jobs that provide fringe benefits–are more likely to marry. Further, differences in job quality explain a significant portion of the educational gradient in entry into first marriage. However, these dimensions of job quality are not predictive of cohabitation.

November 27, 2018


Daniel Schneider Kristen Harknett Matthew Stimpson


Economic Inequality

Economic Wellbeing


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