Between 1980 and 2010, the proportion of American women who were married declined from 74 percent to 56 percent. There are plenty of trends during that 30-year span that can help explain the shift in women’s decisions to marry or not: increasing college attendance, growing labor-force participation, increasing rates of incarceration, and changing cultural norms, to name a few. A new study suggests that as their wages increase relative to men’s, female workers become less likely to marry.
A recent study takes a look at the shift in terms of economic incentives and finds that while factors such as increasing employment options and the growing ability for women to choose when or if they have children have certainly affected marriage choices, a shift in women’s wages may be among the most significant factors influencing the decision to pass up on marriage.
In a recent paper, Na’ama Shenhav, a Ph.D. candidate at U.C. Davis, estimates that as much as 20 percent of the decline in the marriage rate over the past 30 years is attributable to women’s growing wages. More specifically, it’s the increase of women’s wages relative to their potential mates and the growing importance of women’s wages to overall household income that have contributed to women’s decisions to delay or forgo marriage. The idea is that for many women, especially those on the lower end of the economic ladder, higher earnings allow them to be less financially reliant on others for things such as rent, groceries, utilities, or other basic necessities. That means that the choice to marry becomes less about financial need and more about other things, like love, social norms, religion, or the desire to start a family.