Panel Paper: Precarious Employment and Entry into Marriage and Cohabitation

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Stetson G (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Daniel Schneider1, Kristen Harknett2 and Matthew Stimpson1, (1)University of California, Berkeley, (2)University of California, San Francisco

Extensive economic and social changes over the past fifty years have motivated a great deal of scholarly attention to the relationship between economic circumstances and entry into marriage and cohabitation. Since the 1960s and 1970s, the economic opportunities for those with less than a college degree have deteriorated; earning power, job security, and jobs with good benefits have diminished, while precarious employment has become more prevalent (Kalleberg, 2009; Fligstein and Shin, 2004). Over the same period, entry into first marriage has declined precipitously and marriage has become increasingly stratified by class, with more educated men and women now more likely to marry than their less educated counter-parts (Wang and Parker, 2014; McLanahan, 2004; Ellwood and Jencks, 2004; Goldstein and Kenney, 2001).

While a great deal of social scientific research has examined economic influences on family formation, this literature has generally taken a narrow approach to measuring economic resources – focusing nearly exclusively on earnings and employment status. Unemployment and low earnings clearly matter for family formation (i.e. Burstein, 2007), yet these measures do not capture important dimensions of job quality that have changed over time and are increasingly stratified by education.

Yet, it is precisely these aspects of employment contracts that are the focus of much scholarly and public discussion of the changing American economy (i.e. Kalleberg, 2011; Steverman, 2014). For instance, Hacker (2006) describes the transfer of risk from large institutional actors such as employers to households and workers – seen in the erosion of employment benefit packages. Along similar lines, scholars have also recently called attention to another transfer of risk from employers to employees seen in the rise in variable schedules for hourly workers. With these scheduling practices, employers effectively transfer payroll risk from firm to worker by closely aligning staffing with customer demand (Lambert, 2008; Boushey, 2016).

We use data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 to examine the role of precarious employment in union formation. First, we assess the extent to which job quality – beyond simply employment and earnings – matters for entry into marriage. We also extend the rich existing literature concerned with gender differences in the relationship between economic resources and marriage by investigating whether job quality operates differently on marriage for men and women. Finally, we contrast transitions to marriage with transitions to cohabitation in order to assess if precarious work is a barrier to union formation generally, or simply to marriage, which demographers and sociologists have suggested retains a special symbolic value and so has a higher normative bar to entry.