Some Men Earn More, Some Men Earn Less: Which Men Earn More When They Marry?

Jonathan M. Bearak, New York University (NYU)

This article investigates the effect of marriage on the male earnings distribution in an analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1979-2010). Recent scholarship questions the direction of causation between marriage and earnings because the average man’s earnings begin to rise shortly before marriage. However, prior research has vastly oversimplified the functional form of the marriage premium. The evidence that selection into marriage rather than effects of marriage explain men’s marriage premium pertains not to all but a subset of men – those at the bottom of the earnings distribution – a group of men who are also less likely to marry and remain married. For men higher in the distribution, marriage elevates earnings. Thus, ironically, marriage may have a causal effect on male earnings – just not necessarily on the earnings of the poor men on whom social scientists and policymakers focus the most.

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Presented in Session 129: Cohabitation and Marriage