Volume 37 - Article 9 | Pages 229–250 Author has provided data and code for replicating results

Women’s age at first marriage and marital instability in the United States: Differences by race and ethnicity

By Evelyn Lehrer, Yeon-jeong Son

Print this page  Facebook  Twitter


Date received:03 Aug 2016
Date published:02 Aug 2017
Word count:4442
Keywords:age at marriage, divorce, marital dissolution, marital instability
Additional files:readme.37-9 (text file, 369 Byte)
 demographic-research.37-9 (zip file, 5 MB)


Background: Numerous studies have shown that the age at which women enter first marriage is a major factor in marital instability, but possible differences by race/ethnicity have not been examined to date.

Objective: Our aim was to study whether the association between women’s age at first marriage and marital instability varies by race/ethnicity.

Methods: We used data from the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth to examine differences by race/ethnicity in the shape of the curve relating women’s age at entry into first marriage to marital instability.

Results: We found that for non-Hispanic white women, the probability of dissolution falls with age up to ages 30–32 and thereafter the curve flattens out. For black women, marital instability decreases with age only up to ages 24–26. For Hispanic women, marital instability falls from age ≤20 to 21–23 and then the curve flattens out; beyond ages 30–32 the curve turns upward.

Conclusions: We suggest explanations for these patterns, based in part on differentials in the associations of age at marriage with education and nonmarital fertility. For white women, but not for their black and Hispanic counterparts, delayed entry into marriage is associated with a small increase in nonmarital fertility and a pronounced increase in education.

Contribution: The common practice in studies with US data of conducting pooled analyses – with simple controls for black, Hispanic, and other – can lead to misleading conclusions. Our findings underscore the desirability of conducting separate analyses by race/ethnicity wherever possible.

Author's Affiliation

Evelyn Lehrer - University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, United States of America [Email]
Yeon-jeong Son - University of Illinois at Chicago, United States of America [Email]

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

» Delayed entry into first marriage and marital stability: Further evidence on the Becker-Landes-Michael hypothesis
Volume 29 - Article 20

Most recent similar articles in Demographic Research

» Impact of conjugal separation on women’s income in Canada: Does the type of union matter?
Volume 35 - Article 50    | Keywords: divorce, marital dissolution

» Delayed entry into first marriage and marital stability: Further evidence on the Becker-Landes-Michael hypothesis
Volume 29 - Article 20    | Keywords: divorce, marital instability

» Marital Dissolution in Japan: Recent Trends and Patterns
Volume 11 - Article 14    | Keywords: divorce, marital dissolution

» The impact of parent's and spouses' education on divorce rates in Norway
Volume 10 - Article 5    | Keywords: divorce, marital dissolution

» Introduction to the Special Collection on The new roles of women and men and implications for families and societies
Volume 48 - Article 29    | Keywords: divorce