Volume 30 - Article 3 | Pages 71–110

Men’s economic status and marital transitions of fragile families

By Sharon Sassler, Soma Roy, Elizabeth Stasny

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Date received:01 Jun 2009
Date published:15 Jan 2014
Word count:6683
Keywords:fragile families, marriage, union formation


Background: Men's ability to fill the provider role remains a consistent requirement for marriage across the class spectrum and cross-nationally. Fiscal concerns appear less salient for transitions to parenthood or to informal unions such as cohabitation.

Objective: This paper evaluates whether marital expectations and marital transitions of new mothers are associated with the economic characteristics of father.

Methods: Analyses are based on observed and imputed data on fathers from the first two waves of the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study. Logistic regression models assess factors predicting mothers' initial expectations of marrying their baby's father, and transitions into marital unions by the second interview.

Results: Most women expect to marry their baby's father, although estimates are lower when men's data are repaired by imputation. Multivariate analyses find mother's marital expectations are most strongly associated with men's educational attainment, but not with men's earnings at the child's birth. Transitions to marriage are positively associated with men's earnings levels, although estimates are considerably lower than previously reported thresholds. Furthermore, the odds of marrying do not increase monotonically as men's income level rises once missing data are imputed.

Conclusions: Theories regarding prerequisites for marriage must better account for growing heterogeneity in the unmarried population. Standard economic predictors of marriage for the overall population are less applicable for this sample of new parents. Ultimately, this study highlights the importance of including information on missing fathers. Excluding them may produce misleading statistical associations between men's economic measures and women's marriage.

Author's Affiliation

Sharon Sassler - Cornell University, United States of America [Email]
Soma Roy - California Polytechnic State University, United States of America [Email]
Elizabeth Stasny - Ohio State University, United States of America [Email]

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