Volume 29 - Article 20 | Pages 521–542 Author has provided data and code for replicating results

Delayed entry into first marriage and marital stability: Further evidence on the Becker-Landes-Michael hypothesis

By Evelyn Lehrer, Yu Chen

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Date received:18 Jan 2013
Date published:20 Sep 2013
Word count:5719
Keywords:divorce, heterogamy, marital instability, marriage
Additional files:readme.29-20 (text file, 490 Byte)
 demographic-research.29-20 (zip file, 6 MB)


Background: In their pioneering research, Becker, Landes, and Michael (1977) found that beyond age 30 there is a positive relationship between women’s age at first marriage and marital instability. They interpreted this finding as a "poor-match effect" emerging when the biological clock begins to tick.

Objective: Our objective was to ascertain with more recent data whether or not there is evidence of a poor match effect and if so, whether it is associated with higher marital instability.

Methods: We used data on non-Hispanic white women from the 2006-2010 National Surveys of Family Growth (NSFG) (N = 3,184).

Results: We found evidence of the existence of a poor-match effect: women who delay marriage disproportionately make unconventional matches, which are generally associated with high marital instability. We also found, however, that their unions are very solid. Both of these results were consistent with earlier findings for the 1995 and 2002-2003 NSFG cycles. In attempting to explain this puzzle, we proposed and tested competing hypotheses. We found that the destabilizing effects associated with indicators of unconventional matches are also present in marriages contracted late, but are dwarfed by the stabilizing influences associated with higher levels of education and older ages.

Conclusions: This paper contributes to our understanding of the determinants of marital instability and the poor match effect by providing a new interpretation for the puzzle described above.

Comments: Our findings have implications for analyses of changes over time in the extent of positive assortative mating in the marriage market, and for the extensive literature showing that heterogamy in traits that are complementary in the context of marriage is destabilizing -- heterogamous marriages contracted at a late age are likely to be stable.

Author's Affiliation

Evelyn Lehrer - University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, United States of America [Email]
Yu Chen - University of Illinois at Chicago, United States of America [Email]

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

» Women’s age at first marriage and marital instability in the United States: Differences by race and ethnicity
Volume 37 - Article 9

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