Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Cross-Cohort Changes in Entry into First Marriage: Does Debt Matter, and Has This Association Changed over Time

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 10:35 AM
Brickell South (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Fenaba Addo, University of Wisconsin – Madison and Jason Houle, Dartmouth College
Recent cohorts of young adults came of age in a social and economic atmosphere considerably different than young Americans in previous generations. They are the first full generation of Americans who experienced the high rates of marital instability and repartnering of their parents during their childhood, in what is commonly referred to as the divorce revolution.  Those coming of age in the 21st century are also more likely to have pursued post-secondary schooling and face rising rates of tuition and a decreased likelihood of receiving federal grants. And Americans today marry later than they did in the closing decades of the 20th century.  In the 1980s, over half of all women had entered their first marriage by age 24, and about half of men had done so by age 26.  By 2011, the median age at first marriage for women was 26.5, while for men it was 28.7. At the same time, women’s economic position has become increasingly important for early union decisions, while the stalled economic status of young men has meant an increasing delay in age at first marriage and increasingly a first transition into cohabitation. Recent studies (Addo 2014) suggest that differences in the economic underpinnings of marriage and cohabitation have contributed to the increased influence of financial factors, specifically debt, as a barrier to marital formation for young adult women.  For this study we use data from two cohorts, the Baby Boomer generation of the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY) 1979 Cohort, and the “Millennials” represented by the NLSY 1997 cohort to explore cohort changes in economic attributes predicting early union formation.  We are particularly interested in examining how much more difficult debt and the increasing significance of net worth makes it to enter into a marriage directly relative to cohabiting first.  We use event history methods, comparing men and women, to predict transitions into first union, cohabitation versus marriage. Our analysis highlights the growing influence of negative financial assets on family formation decisions in early and young adulthood.