Marriage Markets and Union Formation in the United States: Evidence from Young Adults during the Great Recession

David McClendon, University of Texas at Austin

Recent shifts in union formation patterns have made prior research on marriage markets in the US outdated. This paper uses the NLSY-97 to examine how marriage market characteristics, particularly the sex ratio, shape union formation among contemporary young adults. Models of first-union timing indicate the supply of partners is more relevant for women than for men but show variation over the life course: while a partner surplus is associated with cohabitation for women ages 18-23, it is associated with marriage for women 24-31. Furthermore, models of first marriage timing find the sex ratio is unrelated to the transition to marriage among cohabiting women. I also consider measures related to the supply of economically attractive partners in the context of the Great Recession. This study highlights the continued importance of socio-environmental factors for union formation and sheds light on the meanings and uses of cohabitation and marriage among today’s young adults.

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Presented in Session 85: Union Formation across the World