A Theory of Marriage Timing Author(s): Valerie Kincade Oppenheimer Source: American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 94, No. 3 (Nov., 1988), pp.

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A Theory of Marriage Timing'
Valerie Kincade Oppenheimer University California, of Los Angeles

a Withthe use of a modified job-searchtheory, conceptualframework is developed to show that some factorsinfluence marriage or timing either by facilitating impeding assortative Transimating. is tion-to-work emphasizedbecause work structures people's lifestyles and is themajor sourceofsocioeconomic its status;however, natureis oftenunpredictable earlyadulthood,while otherperin sonal attributes emerge is early.The theory appliedto thedynamics ofassortative scenarios: whengender mating undertwo contrasting rolesare highly rolesstart segregated, whenwomen'seconomic and to resemble of thoseof men. Finally,the implications the analysis forBecker'sreduced-gains-to-marriage argument assessed. are

In this article,I argue that trendsand differentials marriagetiming in result,in part, fromvariationsin the degreesof difficulty people enin counter matingassortatively. explicatea conceptual I framework that linksassortative matingto thetransition adult economicrolesand, in to theprocess,develop a theory how sex differentials marriage in of timing will changeas marriedwomen'smarketworkbecomesmoreextensive. As a concomitant, challenge popularnotion I the thata declinein gainsto marriage owingto theincreasein women'seconomic independence the is preeminent factor the recentrise in delayedmarriage. in Although thisis not oftenexplicitly recognized, satisfactory a marital match can actually be achieved in two different complementary but a ways. In thefirst, good matchis formed through somesortof selection process. Individuals are chosen so that theymatchon similaror comThispaperis a revision a presentation at the1987meetings thePopulation of given of Association Americain Chicago.I wouldlike to express appreciation the of my to many colleagues whotookthetime makeextensive valuablecritical to and comments on earlier versions thepaper.In addition theanonymous of to reviewers AJS,I am for particularly grateful the reactions RichardBerk, AndrewCherlin, for of Patricia Gwartney-Gibbs, Margaret Marini,KarenMason, Mark Plant,Kenneth Sokoloff, and Linda Waite. Requestsforreprints shouldbe sentto ValerieK. Oppenheimer, Department Sociology, of University California, Angeles, of Los California 90024.

? 1988 by The Universityof Chicago. All rightsreserved. .50 0002-9602/89/9403-0004$01

AJS Volume 94 Number3 (November1988): 563-91


American Journal Sociology of plementary traitsthatthey(or sometimes theirparents)bothvalue.2 In the second, adaptive socializationduringcourtshipor aftermarriage modifies existing the traits one or bothpartners orderto improve of in the quality of the match achieved via the selectionprocess alone. Such socializationis one possiblesolutionto the uncertainties plague all that marriages, especiallythoseof relatively youngpeople. In some societies, it may even play an especiallyimportant role in householdstability.3 While both these processes,selectionand socialization, will usuallybe operative,the relativeimportance each can vary. For example, if of postmarital socialization becomesmoredifficult achieve,thena greater to reliancemust be placed on the maritalselectionprocess. I will focus primarily the factorsaffecting on assortativematingvia the selection process.However, I will also pay some attention the effect recent to of socioeconomic changeson the relativeimportance thesetwo mechaof nismsforachievinga good matchand the implications thisformarof riagetiming and maritalinstability. the of One approach to investigating marriage-timing implications in variations the difficulties matingassortatively represented the of is by This focuseson the mar"marriage-squeeze" researchof demographers. of riage-market implications variationsin the age-sexcomposition a of in in population, primarily responseto fluctuations fertility (Akers1967; Schoen 1981, 1983). Whilethisapproachhas important advantages,it is rather limitedin the rangeof assortative problems investigated. exFor ample, it typically seeks to explain onlythosemarriage-timing changes has on thathave oppositeeffects the two sexes and, therefore, not been in or thatare increases decreasesin age at marriage veryuseful explaining exhibited bothmen and womensimultaneously. by of In thispaper, I use a different for the strategy investigating effect in This is to adapt on difficulties matingassortatively marriage timing. of to The applicability thistheory severalideas from job-searchtheory. between of marriage searchesstemsfrom explication the relationship its the closenessof the matchsoughtand the lengthof timea personmust search.Whenappliedto marriage the markets, theory arguesfora strong associatedwith relationship betweenmarriagetiming and the problems assortativemating.I will develop this themeand also expand on the
extensive, though heterogeneous, sociological literature assortative on mating, muchof whichis descriptive. e.g., Hollingshead See, 1950;Kennedy 1952; Goode1964, pp. 332-37; Winch1955; Kiser1968; Burgess Wallin1943; Rockwell and 1976;Elder 1969;Glenn,Ross, and Rully1974;Taylorand Glenn1976;Udry1977; Chase 1975; Rubin1968;Pavalko and Nager 1968. 3 For example, one function earlymarriage traditional of for Indian and Chinese womenwas to complete girl'ssocialization thejointhouseholds herhusband a in of rather thanin herparents' household (Levy 1949). 564
2 Thereis an

Marriage important differences betweensearchingin marriagemarketsand job markets. The idea ofapplying job-searchtheory mateselection byno means to is new, thoughwork in thisarea has not yet been extensively developed. Beckerand his colleagueshave incorporated certain aspectsofjob-search theory intotheir discussions marriage of formation (Becker,Landes, and Michael 1977; Becker 1981, chap. 10). However,theydid notreallyuse searchtheory study marriage-formation to the but processitself primarily as a tool to help explain maritaldissolution. Moreover,Becker'sother work on assortativematingis not developed withina search-theoretic framework assumes perfect but and costlessknowledgeon the part of marriage-market participants (Berk and Berk 1983). Nor has it been particularly focusedon thestudyof marriage timing (Becker 1974, 1981, chap. 4). In thepresent I article, addresstheissueof however, specifically therelevance searchmodelsto marriage examof timing and, in addition, ine theirimplications the divisionof labor by sex changes. as I begin with a briefdescription job-searchtheory, of followedby a in in discussion thesimilarities differences searching job and marof and riagemarkets.The searchmodel will thenbe used, in capsule form, to develop the following arguments: 1. Assortative matingis hindered(and hence marriagesdelayed or disrupted earlyin their careers)by a relatively highdegreeofuncertainty about the important attributes thatpeople attempt match.Moreover, to sincemarriages plannedto last, thelong-run are benefits a particular of matchare substantially affected thefuture by attributes well as by the as current ones of the personsinvolved,and thereis even greater uncertaintyabout the natureof an individual'sfuturecharacteristics. a As consequence, exogenous factorsthat affectthe degree of uncertainty about bothfuture and current attributes influence will marriage timing. 2. The marriage-delaying effects greater of can uncertainty be partially offset relying postmarital by on for adaptive socialization compensate to earlier in imperfections predictions. socialization However,ifpostmarital becomesa less feasiblemechanism improving qualityofa match, for the thenthe role of maritalselectionexpands, as does the effect factors of the affecting level ofearlyuncertainty about important attributes life and circumstances. anyevent,a greater In relianceon theselection processto achieve a good matchshouldlead to a laterage at marriage. 3. A major source of uncertainty an industrial in societylies in the natureof adult economicroles and in the timing the transition a of to stableworkcareerbecause workhas such a profound in influence structuringa couple's life-style and determining socioeconomicstatus. its Hence, factors thataffect timing thetransition a stableworkrole the of to shouldalso affect marriage timing. 565

American Journal Sociology of 4. If thetiming thetransition adultworkrolesdoes have an effect of to on assortative mating,thenhighly differentiated genderroleswill foster of sex differences age at marriage. in Moreover, nature theassortative the mating process changes when the adult economic roles of men and In womenstart converge. particular, to there an increasein thelevelof is and uncertainty regarding youngwomen's long-run attributes a decrease for in the role of postmarital socializationas a mechanism achievinga to goodmatch.As a result, women'sage at marriage be expected rise. can SCOPE OF MODEL in The theoretical modelexplicated hereis limited scope. It does notseek behavior to or of to developa "complete" explanation marriage-formation list developan exhaustive ofall (or mostof) themajorvariablesaffecting involvedin marriage timing. There are just too manyrandomelements searchingfor a mate for us ever to achieve a full explanationof the marriage behaviorofanygroupor individual.For thisreason,theroleof in socioeconomic factors assortative matingis emphasized-not because fromthe individual'spointof the these are necessarily mostimportant sensitive exogenousinfluences to view but because theyare particularly are and because a person's futuresocioeconomiccharacteristics often unpredictable a youngage. On theotherhand, sincetheyare empiriat factors thatmay have the highest cally less systematically problematic, in for subjectivepriority thoseinvolvedmay stillhave littleimportance in beproducing macro-level changesor differentials marriage-formation sex characteristics, aphavior. Physical appearance, basic personality are and socioeconomic peal, religion, ethnicity, background all usually observable when or even beforeyoung people startto date.4 Hence, shouldbe particusocioeconomic factors, a sourceofunpredictability, as in larlydecisive in producingtrendsand differentials marriagetiming resulting from changesin the natureof the searchprocess. ASSUMPTIONSABOUT THE ROLE OF RATIONALCHOICE IN BEHAVIOR Sociologistsoftendismisseconomicmodels because theyobject to the economist'semphasis on rational choice. However, many supposedly for "nonrational" elements have limited value in accounting social differences and changesin marriageformation because theydo not varysysor for ethnic religious can 4 However,sex-ratio imbalances particular groups lead to of marriage delays and an increasein the frequency nonmarriage well as of as heterogamy (Blau, Blum,and Schwartz 1982).


Marriage tematically over timeand space. Thus, while sexual attraction may be in veryimportant thedetermination a marriage of partner, unlesswe can establish thatitis moreimportant somesocial groups for thanothers in or some timeperiodsthan others(and why),it will not be a highly useful predictor trendsand differentials marriagetiming, of in even assuming we could measureit.5 In addition, regardlessof what economiststhinkabout the role of rationalcalculationin behavior,this assumption not essentialto the is applicability job-search theoryto marriagesearches. We need not of assume thatyoungpeople, in general,are calculatingin theirinterpersonal relationships even thatenoughofthemare to producesignificant or in shifts aggregate-level behavior.6 example,one can arguethatwork For is often such an important influence structuring thatconsiderable in life careeruncertainties have an effect attitudes theensuing will on and marriage-formation behavior. From the perspective the individualsinof of volved, thismay take the formof feeling "not ready"to marry, still to of desiring searchout an "identity," notbeingable to take a "reading" on whatanother personis really like,and so on. It is also hardto fantasize about thenatureofa future withanother life personwhenfewcluesexist about mostofthebare essentials thatfuture. of And I suspectthat,given women'straditional economicdependenceon theirhusbands,theirfantasieshave been particularly in important helping themdecidewhether a relationship has a potentially desirablefuture.These feelings-highly subjectiveand ofteninchoatebut, nevertheless, based on certainrealities-will, in turn, often makeyoungpeopleresist forming closerelationships. However, the fact that people's feelingsand behavior may be rather inchoatedoes not mean thattheyare not responding an objecto tive reality(a realitywe can measuremore easily than the emotionsit engenders) that it is impossibleto subject the processto systematic or analysis. JOB-SEARCH THEORY: AN OVERVIEW Job-search theoryaddresses the problemthat, because of the heteroof geneity labor demand and supply,both workers and employers lack
I One couldalso argue, that however, sexualattraction a perfectly is rational, though perhaps incomplete, basison which form marriage. sexualrelations importo a If are tant a person, orshewouldbe quiteirrational ignore as a factor themateto he to it in selection process. 6 However, young people,and especially their parents, maybe relatively calculating aboutthekinds socialsituations which of in they their (or children) become involved. Oncein a "suitable" setting, however, individuals more can allowthemselves safely to be spontaneous unpremeditated their and in relationships (Goode 1963,p. 8; Scott



American Journalof Sociology theknowledge necessary achievea perfect instantaneous to and matching ofworkers jobs.7 Fundamental thetheory theidea thatthere a to to is is of distribution potential job offers any givensearcher, for onlya small proportion whichrepresents "perfect" of a match.Hence, a costly search processhas to be conducted.Searchis costly variousreasons:there for are the directmoneycoststo job search(e.g., transportation) well as the as psychic costs. Moreover,thereare also indirect costs-for example,the earnings whena personturns lost down a job thatis less thantheperfect matchin favorof continuing search (Stephenson1976; Salop 1973). to Therefore, individualstypically not continue do searching untilthe perfectmatchis achieved. Instead, the best strategy to decide on a minis imally in acceptablematch,expressed terms a wage-the "reservation" of with wages below this wage; the job seekerthen rejectsall job offers minimum acceptsthefirst witha wage at or above it. The higher but one thereservation of wage, however,the smallertheproportion jobs in the offer distribution that will fall above it and the longerthe time spent searching, since the probability finding acceptable matchin any of an the givenunitperiodof searchis low. This forces job seekerto continue the of searching overseveralperiods,thereby increasing length theunemployment period. How highthereservation wage is setdependson how muchthecostsof of are to match. searching offset thereturns searchin theform a better by the Ceterisparibus, the greaterthe returns fromsearching, higherthe reservation wage and thelongerthetimespentsearching. The reverse is thecase whenthereturns low. Much thesame reasoning appliedto is are to costslead to a lowerreservation costs-only here,higher wage in order In sum, the qualityof the match,once reducethe timespentsearching. is of made, as well as the lengthof timespentsearching, a function the reservation this wage. Theoretically, is set at thepointwherethereturns to further searchesare just offset the costs. by Because the reservation wage is determined equatingmarginal by returns and costs,itis sensitive factors to affecting thesetwocomponents of theprocess.For example,theamountoftimean individual planning is to workat a job willaffect reservation his wage becauseit affects returns the to search-the shorter worktimedesired, less itwillpayto engage the the in a lengthy searchprocess(Addisonand Siebert1979,p. 174; Ehrenberg and Smith 1982, p. 449). With regardto costs,the existence search of subsidiescan reduce the cost of search in each periodof time. For example,unemployment benefits partially will subsidizethejob-search proI Thisdiscussion job-search of rests on theory heavily theexposition Ehrenberg in and Smith (1982,pp. 445-50); McCall (1970);Lippmanand McCall (1976a).


Marriage cess so thatthe individualcan hold out longerfora higherreservation wage. Once unemployment benefits exhausted, are thereby raising search costs,thereis a tendency settleforpoorer-paying (Gronau 1971). to jobs Whilehigher searchcostslead to a lowerreservation wage and shorter searchperiods,sometimes costsofsearchare so highthattheyexceed the the possiblebenefits alternatively, benefits so low thatthey are (or, the will neverexceedthecostsofsearch).Whenthatis true,dropping of out thelaborforce a likely is response, and theabove is one explanation given forthe "discouraged worker"phenomenon (McCall 1970; Lippman and McCall 1976b). The length timespentsearching also be affected theefficiency of will by of the search process. By search efficiency, mean the likelihoodof I finding good matchforeach unitcostofinvestment-that thedirect a is, and indirect (e.g., time)costsinvested periodofsearch.Basically,this per is reflected thedegreeofdispersion the"offer" in in a distribution;greater dispersion meansmorecan be gainedbysearching thatin each search but periodthereis a lowerprobability comingup witha satisfactory of offer (Stigler1961; Gronau 1971). If thereis littledispersion, however,there will be a higher density potential of matches,and thereis less advantage to moreextensive searches. Two types determinants searchefficiency particularly of of are useful to distinguish. One involvesthe actual numberof potentialmatchesthat exist,whiletheotherconcerns searcher's the of knowledge and access to these potentialmatches. For example, if employment expanding, is search efficiency is improvesas the probability that a given employer recruiting labor is increased(Stigler1962). The reverseis the case in a recession.In addition, however, in any given densityof potential matches,moreknowledgewill increasethe efficiency the searchproof cess sinceless timeis wasted on nonproductive searches. SEARCHINGIN MARRIAGEMARKETS It is notsuch a greatintellectual leap from analysisofthematching the of workers jobs in thelabormarket thematching menand womenin to to of marriagemarkets(Becker et al. 1977; Becker 1974, 1981). Because of imperfect knowledge, bothare processesthatare carriedout underconsiderableuncertainty, and, in both,searching can be verycostly.Similarly,in the searchfora mate, as fora job, one could arguethatpeople will tendto set a minimum acceptancelevel-what would be considered an "acceptable"match,though themostpreferred "perfect" not or match. Those who fallbelow or outsidethisarea ofacceptability usuallynot will be considered. bothtypesof searches,thelength timespentsearchIn of 569

Journalof Sociology American ing is inextricably bound up with the minimally acceptablematchthe individualsets and closelytied in with the costs and expectedbenefits from searching. Despite the parallelsbetweenthe two typesof searchprocesses, there are also several important differences-inthe processesthemselves, as well as in our ability observethem.For one thing, to there theproblem is of detecting whethera search is actuallyoccurring. definition, the By in unemployed thosewho are lookingforwork;8 are however, thecase of marriage markets, youngpeople startto date in their earlyto mid-teens, long beforeit is reasonable to assume they are searchingfor marital for partners. complicate To matters further, searching a mate (or just a good date, forthat matter) usuallycombinedwith otheractivitiesis school,work,recreational activities, and so on.9A personneed noteven be lookingfora spouse but stillfindone. Given thisfundamental ambi10 in guity marriage-search to behavior, thebeststrategy be notto try may ascertain whether searchis actuallyoccurring a but,instead,to focuson searches. measuring what conditions foster impedesuccessful or A second important difference betweenthe analysisof searchingin versusthatin job markets thatjob-searchtheory typically marriage is is phrasedin termsof maximizing income,althoughit is recognized that nonmonetary rewardsmay also be involved. However, with marriage searches, the situationis more complex. Althoughone could discuss in of matching terms theindividual's maximizing personalsocioeconomic status,thisis too narrowan approachto take on an a priori basis. There are numerous returns marriage to thatdefyeasy quantification-atleast in dollarterms. For example,marriage provides opportunity longthe for runintimacy emotional and support, companionship a that,byinvolving historical continuity, promises memories a sharedpast. It also provides of the major setting having children, opportunity regular(and for the for safer)sex, and so on. In sum, the applicationof a job-searchmodel to marriagesearchesdoes not implythat all that are being matchedare socioeconomic characteristics. a consequence, is probably highly As it not to meaningful tryto operationalize marriage-market a analogue to the reservation wage.
8 Even here,however, some investigators arguedthat,foryoungpeople,the have distinction between and beingunemployed beingout of thelaborforce notvery is meaningful (Shishkin 1976;Leon 1981). 9 However,manyeconomists now arguethata considerable amount job search of occurswhile people are stillemployed (Johnson 1978; MacDonald 1982). Hence, unemployment is increasingly viewed a poorindicator search status being as of status. 10 This ambiguity has interesting substantive implications, however.Combining "search" behavior withother activities reduces timecostsofsearching therethe and fore permits higher a minimum acceptance leveland moreextensive searches.


Marriage By and large, job-search theoryis not yet reallydevelopmental in and character, herein one ofitsmajordrawbacksas a toolforanalyzlies ingmarriage-market behavior.Economists permit searcher learn do a to about the offer in distribution one searchperiodso that,in subsequent searches,he may modify reservation his wage (Lippman and McCall 1976b,pp. 173ff.;Salop 1973).Theyalso sometimes allow forinterperiod shifts the offer in distribution, such as thoseassociatedwithvagariesin thebusinesscycle(Gronau 1971; Kieferand Neumann 1979; Stephenson 1976; Salop 1973; Gera and Hasan 1982). However, economicmodels typically notpermit offer do as the distribution shift to systematically the individualages, and theytend to treatthe individual'sgeneralhuman capital skills(what he or she is matchedon) as knownby the individual and fixedfromone search periodto another."lNor do theypermit the anticipation futurecircumstances affectcurrent of to search decisions (Lippmanand McCall 1976a, p. 158). However,withmarriage markets, theseassumptions particularly are and the incorporation unrealistic, of age intothe model is dictatedby severalfactors. First,in marriage markets, shape of theoffer the distribution changes dramatically withage and, withit, the efficiency the searchprocess. of Thus, assuming certain age preferences, availabilityof potential the matesvaries systematically withage as marriage thinsout progressively the ranksof the eligible(Goldman,Westoff, Hammerslough and 1984). Moreover,different organizations and institutions will concentrate or of dispersethedensity potential matesand do so in ways thatare related to the individual'sage. For example, attending incollege can greatly crease the efficiency searching a mate (Scott 1965). However,this of for high level of search efficiency may drop offsharplyas young adults In disperseto moreheterogeneous armed-forces social.milieus. contrast, participation disruptsthe marriagemarketsof males, but this is also highly related. age Second,thedegreeof uncertainty about important of attributes potential partnersor even the searcher'sown attributes also shiftssystematicallywithage. This is partly because theuncertainty notdue just to is imperfect knowledgeof the important existing traitsof potential mates; some of thetraits thatprovideessentialingredients thematching in process have notyetbeen clearly formed maydeveloponlyas adultroles and are assumed. Hence, a major difficulty makinglong-term in matches lies in estimating natureofimportantfuture the characteristics thebasis of on theincomplete information currently available. And theyounger pothe
However, there someexceptions thisin thejob-shopping are to literature (Johnson 1978;MacDonald 1982).


American Journalof Sociology thesecharacteristicsit tential matesare, themoredifficult is to predict for or thoseof the searcher, thatmatter.'2 on matching a maypreclude premarital The factthatan earlymarriage an is thathave notyetemerged undoubtedly important adult attributes and marital of reason for the observed high frequency "mismatches" and Rodgers1987;Morgan (Thornton instability amongearliermarriers 1985;Boothand Edwards 1985;Bumpassand Sweet 1972). and Rindfuss marriages dependspartlyon This suggeststhat the success of youthful and characteristics can predictwhat theirfuture how well the partners is will be like. The accuracyof these predictions future lives together factors-forexample,bythestateof by likely be influenced exogenous to by the economy.The success of such marriageswill also be affected for predicsocializationcan compensate imperfect whether postmarital tionsmade duringthe mate-selection process. between job and marriage difference important Finally,a particularly marketsis that, in mate selection,the decisionto accept a particular searching precludes timeoften sought not)at an earlier or match(whether matchlaterin time.At the and forming different possiblybetter a and searchesand also increasethe cost of future veryleast, it will greatly cost is In probably reducethereturns. thissense,there an opportunity to decidingon any particularmatch,and it should be higherin youthif someofa person's to decreasestheability predict incomplete information not acceptingan offer characteristics.'13"4Conversely, important future acceptablematchis set too high)risksthe (because, e.g., the minimally cost. Later matchesmay notbe as desirableas the oppositeopportunity for greater women,giventheir one refused earlier.This riskis probably As men olderthanthemselves. a result, supplyof the to tendency marry potentialmates decreases with age for women but increasesfor men (Goldmanet al. 1984). of In sum, finding mate is, in part,a function the relativenumbers a of and dispersion available members the oppositesex. However,peoof just anyone-they want to mate assortatively. ple do not wish to marry
12 Thismight termed "maturity" be a factor, maturity a distinct but has psychological connotation, I am nottalking aboutemotional and just maturity. alsoMorgan See and Rindfuss's (1985)discussion "emotional" "social"maturity. of vs. 13 If nothing else,a marriage divorce and taketime happen-meanwhile nature to the ofthemarriage market shifting is rapidly. Thusonewillnever stepbackinto same the marriage market left marry-andfor one to sometheir marriage-market positions may be decidedly worsethenexttimearound; others for they willbe better. 14 For this reasonalso, thejob-shopping approach developed economists limby has itedapplicability themarriage-search to process since"trading is usually ofan up" less option. However,theincreasing withwhichdivorces be obtained been ease has can reducing opportunity ofmaking poormatch. the cost a Besides, do notreally we know how muchtrading has occurred recent up in years.


Marriage Hence, ifand whena mateis foundis also relatedto theavailable supply of "suitable"partners, and the successof thesearchdependsnotonlyon charnumbers also on thereliability information but of about important The availability of acteristics boththesearcher of and potential partners. about their members theoppositesex, their of suitability, knowledge and in suitability vary systematically with age but not necessarily the same is attributes relatively direction. Whileinformation aboutsomeimportant ethnicity, ascertainableat any time-for example, about age, religion, and so forth-otherinphysicalappearance,basic personality features, withage formation less certain is whenthepersonis youngbut increases of as adult roles are assumed. However, the availability potential partoff.Hence, the optimal nerstendsto decreasewithage as people marry of number in timeformarriage, thesenseof theexistence thegreatest of is unmarried personswith some known essentialcharacteristics, at a relatively youngage. The optimum, however,in thesenseof thegreater attribassortative mating availability information severalimportant of on availutes,is often an olderage. This age-related at aspectofknowledge of rapid abilityshould be especiallycharacteristic societiesundergoing uncertainties economicchange, which, as a result,can lead to greater Thus, regarding young people's futuresocioeconomiccharacteristics. forcesin the thereis a constanttensionbetweenthese often-opposing but attempt optimizethe matching to process,a tensionthatmay often not necessarilyalways be resolved by a considerable amount of modification attributes lateradaptive socialization. of via THE TRANSITION TO WORK AND MARRIAGETIMING I Followinga long demographic tradition, argue herethat a promising for would be to focuson thetiming of strategy analyzing marriage timing the transition adult economicroles, the natureof theseroles in late to adolescence and early adulthood, and the various factorsthat affect them. An individual'scurrent his labor-market positionaffects or her current to because it affects ability setup an indepenthe to ability marry denthousehold.Hence, economicindependence enables already-formed the matches proceedto themaritalstage.In addition,however, assorto tative matingprocess itselfwill be affected the transition-to-work by process and its timing.First, attempts make matcheswhen young to men'scurrent because of economicpositionis poor may be discouraged of theundesirability longengagements. the Second,workprovides socioeconomicmeans forachievingany givenlong-run status. socioeconomic However,youngpeople'suncertainty about what kindofworktheywill be engagedin duringtheirmatureadult yearsmakes it difficult estito mate what long-run socioeconomic positionaccompaniesany givenpo573

American Journalof Sociology tentialmatch. More important, life perhaps,work structures in many focus ways,and thisis truewhether individual the defines as thecentral it of his beingor as simplya necessary evil. Hence, if the natureof adult of workrolesappears veryuncertain, does thefabric one's future so life. For example, will work involve travelingextensively, reducingtime spenttogether home?Willthefamily at have to moveoften becauseofjob transfers? Does the job entail frequent overtimework on nightsand Does it requireheavy entertainment weekendsor working nightshifts? responsibilities involve othertypesof "two-person or career"activities (Papanek 1973)?Is it a high-pressure thataffects qualityoffamily job the life?Is it dangerous?Does it involveworking withand socializing with interesting tiresome or people?And so on. Thus, bystructuring work life, rolesimpose considerable adult socializationnot onlyon the individual worker also on thosecloseto him,who are necessarily but affected the by spouse'sor parent'sworkrole. A personwho is a longway from making the transition a fairly stable work careeris therefore to verymuch an that unknownquantityas a potentialmate. The resultis that factors affect timing thistransition the of shouldalso lead to changesand differentialsin the age at marriage. If the natureof the transition adult economicrolesis significant to in marriage timing, immediately this raisestheissueofgender differences in in economicroles. How have the differences men's and women'straditionaleconomicrolesaffected differences the timing marriage? sex in of And what have been theeffects women'sincreasing of economicactivity outsidethe family? answerthesequestions,I will develop the arguTo ment so that differences genderroles, as well as changesin these in are differences, specifically takenintoaccount. THE OPERATION OF MARRIAGEMARKETS WHEN GENDER ROLES ARE HIGHLY DIFFERENTIATED I beginwiththe oversimplified family situation whichmarket in workis limited men,whilewomenspecializein homeproduction. to Lateron,this will be relaxedto see what difference makes ifwomendo assumption it work and are, moreover, of expectedto work forvarying lengths time the throughout marriage.'5There are a numberof reasonsforstarting withtheassumption highly of sex differentiated roles.Froman empirical pointof view, extensive market workby married womenhas onlydevelof oped in thepostwar era, so thatstarting withtheassumption no market
15 I willalso postpone until then discussion the"wealth" a of women maybring the to marriage, becausein modern times in thishas often beencomposed, part,ofsavings from female earnings.


Marriage workand thengradually it relaxing roughly paralleltheactual courseof historical change(Oppenheimer 1970). From a theoretical pointof view, an important sociologicalliterature elaboratedon the functional has importance sex-segregated of rolesand emphasized significance womthe of en's "traditional" rolesof mothers and homemakers. This is perhapsbest typified theworkofParsons,who arguedthatsex-role by is segregation a functional for in necessity maritalstability our societyand even forthe viability the societyitself.16This is so, Parsons maintained, of because sex-role segregation themostimportant is mechanism preventing disruptive competition betweenhusband and wife(Parsons 1949).17 This leitmotiv the significance gender-differentiated of of economic rolesformaritalstability beingechoed strongly the recentworkof is in the "new home economists" (Becker 1981). Becker basicallyviews unmarried men and womenas potential A trading partners. couplemarries because each partner moreto gainbymarrying (trades) has than (trading) byremaining single(nottrading). in all trading As relationships, gains the to marriageare based on each person'shaving something different to trade. In the case of a woman, her comparativeadvantage in home production leads her to specialize in that,while the man specializesin marketwork. Accordingto Becker, it is this specializationand the mutualdependence producesbetweenthesexesthatprovidethemajor it gains to marriageforeach partner.As a consequence,Becker argues, positiveassortative matingoccurs fortraitsthat are complements-for example, education, intelligence, attractiveness, and so forth-while "negative assortative mating would be optimalfor[traits thatare] substitutessuch as wage earningpower"(Beckeret al. 1977,p. 1146; see also Becker 1974, 1981). Hence, men with high earningspotentialmarry womenwho have low earnings 18 potential but are otherwise superior. Beckergoes on to argue that"the gain from is marriage reducedby a risein theearnings and laborforce participation womenand bya fallin of fertility because a sexual divisionof labor becomesless advantageous" (Becker1981,p. 248). Presumably, is a majorfactor therecent in this rise in the age at marriageand is definitely thought Becker and his colby leagues to be important the considerable in increasein the divorcerate (Becker 1981, p. 248; Beckeret al. 1977).
16 For example, his 1949description in and analysis thesex-segregated ofthe of roles period, Parsons remarked: is scarcely "It conceivable themainlinesofthepresent that situation couldbe altered without consequences tothetotal ouruniquesociety" fatal of (Parsons1949,p. 268). 17 For a more extensive discussion theseissues,see Oppenheimer of (1977,1982)and D'Amico(1983). 18 Becker does nottellus, however, howlikely is to find it suchwomen-superior in every waybutwithfewmarketable skillsand little in interest acquiring them!


American Journal Sociology of In sum, Parsonsstresses necessity minimizing the of sourcesofmarital in while Beckeremphasizes conflict orderto maintainmaritalstability, in on forthe importance the gains to marriage theireffects marriage of mationas well as on maritalstability. However, theyboth see highly as As differentiated genderrolesas centralto marriage an institution. a of of consequence, both,the growth extensive for employment womenis in bound to have a major negativeinfluence the family our society. on is Moreover, view thatwomen'sgrowing the economic independence the in is major factor the rise in delayedmarriageand maritalinstability a commonrefrain the demographic in literature, expressed economists by and sociologists alike (Ross and Sawhill 1975; Cherlin1979, 1981, pp. 51 ff.;Prestonand Richards 1975; Waite and Spitze 1981; Fuchs 1983; and Waite 1986; Farley 1988). Espenshade 1985; Goldscheider MARRIAGE-MARKET DYNAMICS AND MEN'S AGE AT MARRIAGE Although thereare many factors involvedin assortative mating,if the husband is to be the sole or major providerof marketgoods forthe of family, marital the socioeconomic statusand life-style a womanwillbe largely function thelong-term a of socioeconomic characteristics beand havioroftheman she marries. But sincea youngman'sfuture prospects are oftenhighlyuncertain, a this introduces corresponding uncertainty intothemate-selection process,an uncertainty willbe highly that related to career-cycle and stage. This uncertainty, its variationsin degreein responseto exogenousfactors, should affect youngman's short-term a of marriage-market position because it increases difficulty assortative the mating. A youngman's own desireto marry will also be affected his careerby of the cycle stage because an early marriagemay threaten completion important trainingor preventjob experimentation (Furstenberg 1974; if he Rapaport1964).In addition, he expectsupwardmobility, maywish to wait untilhis socioeconomic can characteristics signalthismoreclearly and thereby expand his marriage-market options.Moreover,if thereis a considerable about his future uncertainty life-style, man may also be uncertain aboutthekindofwomanwithwhomhe wouldbe thehappiest. If the costs of search are veryhigh foryoungmen and the returns searchtheory two possiblecoursesof action. One is uncertain, suggests that high search costs lead to a reductionin the minimally acceptable an match,thereby promoting earlierage at marriagebut also a higher of and probability a mismatch. Beckerhas adoptedthisargument uses it to help explain maritalinstability (Becker et al. 1977). However, as I have argued,thisstrategy exactsa muchhigher opportunity in marcost 576

Marriage marital match riagemarkets thanin job markets sinceaccepting poorer a now maypreclude forming muchbetter a matchlater.If thehighcostsof people searching thelow returns) onlytemporary, mostyoung (or are then may prefer postponeseriouslysearchingfor a spouse until enough to searchprocess.In information available to permit moreproductive is a seemseven more short, analogyto thediscouraged-worker the argument a appropriate, though,here,it is notnecessarily "dropout"phenomenon per se but reallya nonsearchstatusthat is at issue. Moreover,if precostsofnot marital is sociallyacceptable,thisreducestheopportunity sex searching a spouse beforea youngman's careerhas stabilizedand, for transformation withit, his marriage-market position.Hence, the recent marof our sexual moreshas undoubtedly had a major role in delaying of riagebecause it has reducedthesexualpenalties suchdelays-for both of menand women.As a consequence, shouldreducetheeffect sexual it an factor attraction marriagetiming, on thereby eliminating important precipitating marriages. MARRIAGE-MARKET DYNAMICS AND WOMEN'S AGE AT MARRIAGE in What sex differences the age at marriagewill searchtheory predict whenwomen,as traditional in wives,engageprimarily homeproduction? thatto be producBeckerarguesessentially womenare so specialized that tive theyhave to be marriedand that this explainstheirearly age at marriage(Becker 1981, p. 77). One problemwith this view is that althoughwomen have typically marriedat an earlierage than men, an observed.For example, earlyage at marriagehas not been universally extensivedemographic researchon preindustrial northwestern Europe indicates thatwomen'sage at marriage was quitehigh,usuallyin thelate 20s (Hajnal 1965). And, in fact, industrialization broughtwith it has declinesin the age at marriage manyEuropean populations for (Modell, 1981, Furstenberg, Strong1978;Hajnal 1953;Wrigley and and Schofield p. 255; Watkins1981). A morelikelyexplanationis thatthe effect sex-role differentiation of makes women more marriageable a youngerage than men because at thereis less early uncertainty about the attributes women that are of as important makinga match.Her socioeconomic in statusand ethnicity, well as the religion woman bringsto a marriage, largely inherited, a are and her physicalattractiveness are and personality characteristics also observable at a relatively young age. Moreover,many of her homeproduction skills are learned primarily the parentalhome relatively in earlyin life,and herfecundity at itspeak in youngadulthood.In short, is 577

of American Journal Sociology thelevel ofuncertainty regarding woman'sfuture a attributes lowerat is a younger relative theuncertainties age to associatedwitha youngman's future prospects. Hence, they have generally married a younger at age, on it has average,thanmen,but whether is an earlymarriage been heavily dependent youngmen'ssocioeconomic on position. there have Moreover, for traditionally been strong incentives womento marry relatively early sincetheavailability eligiblemales tendsto declinesharply women of as getolderwhilethecompetition from younger womenincreases markedly the costs (Goldmanet al. 1984). Consequently, muchgreater opportunity of delayedmarriage womenshouldmake their transition marriage to for muchfaster thanformen and lead to moresharply decreasing marriage prospects withage (Modell et al. 1978). If themale's career-launching statusis an important factor marriage in timing, thenthe age difference betweenspouses shoulddecline,or even reverse, olderfemalemarriers. for For a youngwomanof 18 to marry a boyof 14 or 16 or even ofherown age is almostunthinkable. Whenshe is 22, an 18- or 20-year-old male is stillnot usuallyconsidered sufficiently "mature."But, bythetimeshe getsto be 25 or 26, menofthesame age or even slightly in are younger oftenalreadyestablished theirworkor are well on theirway. And when she is in her late 20s or early30s, many in youngermales are indistinguishable theirphysical,social, and economiccharacteristics from men her own age or somewhat older. Hence, age differences betweenspouses should decline as women'sage at first marriage increases.Do we observethesepatterns? differential The should notbe so apparentforall marriages because as womengetolderthey will be increasingly of market divorcedand, eventappingintothe marriage tually, widowed males. However, the change in the age differential 1 shouldshow up forfirst and we do observethem,as figure marriages, shows (NCHS 1985). WOMEN'S MARKET WORK AND MARRIAGEMARKETS IN THE TRADITIONAL SETTING Even underthe assumptionof the strict divisionof labor betweenthe sexes aftermarriage,women have historically wealth to their brought in marriages the formof a dowry(Goode 1963; Arensberg and Kimball 1968; Stone 1960-61). Whateverotherfunctions dowryserved, it the could offset disadvantagesof a woman's increasing in the marthe age riage market, of thereby facilitating marriages womenin theirmidthe 20s and older. Furthermore, withthe growth industry, of youngwomen have increasingly workedoutsidethehome(often to migrating cities)and have used some of theirearningsto provide a dowry-in fact, if not 578


Years Groom Older 0I





First Marriages




18 20 22 24 26 28 30 32 34 36 38 40 42 44 Age of Bride

was than of bride, ageofbride: by groom older FIG. 1.-Averagenumber years for Center HealthStatistics. National United 1983.Source: States, necessarily name (Alter1986; Tilly and Scott 1978).19 In the United in of involvement young States, the substantialrise in the labor-market and earlyin the 19thcentury reached singlewomennotin schoolstarted (Oppenheimer1970; Goldin and high levels by the mid-20thcentury Sokoloff 1982; Goldin 1983). I have emphasizedthat marriageformation highly is dependentnot characteristics also on but socioeconomic onlyon theyoungman'scurrent his estimatedlong-runsocioeconomicprospectssince marriagesare and schooling steepjob-progression plannedto last. Withmoreprolonged characsocioeconomic goodestimates a man'sfuture of ladders,however, teristics a may be possible beforehe is capable of supporting family, in particularly thestyleto whichtheyoungcouplehas been accustomed. will give of marriage market, anysubsidy marriage And in a competitive rather prospects to on youngpeoplean incentive marry thebasis offuture than present of realities.Hence, the possibility youngwives' beingem19 Norwas this of sucha departure in from rural custom since, certain parts Europeat least,a tradition bothsonsand daughters' of leaving homeearly order workas in to servants other on farms-whathas beencalled"life-cycle service"-predated start the of industrialization severalhundred by years(Berkner 1972; Laslett1977; Hajnal 1982;McIntosh 1984).


American Journalof Sociology ployedearlyin marriage, thoughnot regularly thereafter, actually may reducetheage at marriage because it makesunionsless dependent the on often temporarily earnings theyoungmen.20 low of Thus, itis onlya short stepfrom working a singlewoman to working a youngwifebefore as as the first child has arrived-provided a reasonably reliablebirth-control technology available. In this way, marketwork, combinedwith the is ability control to fertility, make a unionpossiblebefore youngman can a is economically independent but aftersome reliable assessment his of long-run prospects possible.This is mostlikely be thecase in periods is to of economicexpansionand was undoubtedly important factor the in an rapid postwardeclinein the age at marriage.Ii: a morefaltering economy,such as we have been experiencing recently, career-cycle the prospectsof youngmen are moreunpredictable. EXOGENOUS FACTORS AFFECTING MARRIAGETIMING OccupationalType characteristics Because young men's current and futuresocioeconomic are sensitive a number exogenous to of behavior factors, marriage-timing will be inherently and variable-both cross-sectionally longitudinally. One cross-sectional factoris the type of career a man pursues (Oppenheimer 1982,pp. 147-62; Furstenberg 1974;Rapaport1964).Higherand levelcareers often involvemoreextensive training earlycareeruncerfor taintiesthat make it difficult career threatening young men to or families. Men goingintostableblue-collar support careers, however, may at earlierages. Hence, one shouldexpect establishthemselves relatively in occupationaldifferences marriagetimingamong men, and these,in fact,have been observed(Oppenheimer 1982, chap. 4). One implication overtime-toward a ofthisis thatchangesin theoccupationalstructure in moreprofessionalized labor force, example-are a factor therising for in differences These shouldalso be reflected geographic age at marriage. in in marriagetimingbecause of size-of-place and regionaldifferences industrial and occupationalstructure. Young Men's Income Position If the husband's economicrole in the familyremainsof fundamental in thenthe timing youngmen'stransisignificance Americansociety, of tionto a stableworkcareeris stilla majorfactor theage at marriage in of women as well as men. This is oftenignoredbecause we cannoteasily

fora dowry, see Davis (1972).

Fora discussion women's of employment in marriage a functional early as substitute


Marriage includetheeconomic position potential of matesin micro-level analysesof women'sage at marriage.For this reason, it is essentialto studymale marriage timing, topicthathas often a been neglected owingto thetraditionaldemographic preoccupation withwomenas thereproducers. When male and femalemarriage timings compared,moreover, see that are we for themedianage at first marriage risensubstantially bothsexes.For has example, it increasedfrom20.8 in 1970 to 23.6 in 1987 for women; however, riseformenwas almostas great-from23.2 in 1970to 25.8 the in 1987 (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1987, table 3). One could take men'srising as evidenceof the age at marriage further labor-force because ofwomen'sgrowing declining gainsto marriage parHowticipation this and the increasing economicindependence permits. ever,thedeterioration youngmen'slabor-market in has position been so substantial of thatthisseemsthe morelikelyexplanation the changesin 2 male marriage timing and perhapsof femaleas well. As figure shows, since the midyoungmen's relativeeconomicstatushas been declining 1960s,at least. Even their absoluteincomelevel (in constant dollars)has recently gonedown. What is stillunclearis whythesechangeshave been occurring what theytell us about youngmen'scareer-entry and process. Easterlinargues that the recentsharp declinein the relativeeconomic of of cohorts into position youngmalesis because oftheentry baby-boom the labor market.Hence, thissituation should soon reverseitself the as baby-bust cohorts reachyoungadulthood(Easterlin1980, 1978). On the other hand, Oppenheimer arguesthat,whilerelative cohort size is important, otherfactorsare operatingas well. Part of the decline is due to to greater delaysin the transition a stable workcareercaused by major shifts toward a more professionalized characteroccupationalstructure ized by relatively steep age-earnings profiles; hence, this change is unlikelyto reverseitself the way relativecohortsize will (Oppenheimer in 1982). In addition,decreasesin the relativeimportance well-paying of lifelong manufacturing jobs in the durable goods industries have also probably had a negativeinfluence theease and speed and predictabilon ityofmanyyoungmen'scareer-entry process(Urquhart1984).Moreover, thedeclinein therelative incomeposition youngmalesmayalso reflect of delays in theircareer-launching process. For example,theremay have been an increasein stopgaptypesofjob attachments rather thanin low earningsresulting frombeing in low-paying career-entry positions (Oppenheimer a 1983).To evaluatethissituation requires detailedanalysisof changesin youngmen'soccupational attachments employment and regularity. Whateverthe reasons forthese trendsin youngmen's labor-market in position,they are occurring.Historically, trendsand differentials women'smarriage of timing have primarily been a function youngmen's 581

American Journalof Sociology
14000 12000

70 ,


8 50

Median Income 8 / (1988*)


Median Income 4000 2000 Income

40 Income


20 Ratio (%) 10
a 4t



I I 53





I 88 Year








0 -O

CPR, P-60.

to for of FIG. 2.-Median income malesaged20-24and itsratio themedian U.S. BureauoftheCensus, States, 1950-86.Source: malesaged45-54:United

their availability and other factorsaffecting economic characteristics affecting men's marriage ratherthan women'seconomiccharacteristics correlation This is indicatedbythestrong between women'smartiming. males-business cycles and riage rates and factorsdirectlyaffecting it wars, forexample(Rodgersand Thornton1985). Therefore, is rather of rapid rise in age at marriage premature concludethatthe current to ecoto men and women alike is mainlyattributable women'sgrowing nomic independence.Some or even most of the changes are tied into changes in young men's economicposition-just as theyhave always been.

extento womenare expected have a fairly What happenswhenmarried it livesinsteadoflimiting their sivelabor-market involvement throughout in of to theperiodbefore birth thefirst the child?A popularexplanation womis the social demographic and economicliterature thatit increases frommarriage,thereby en's economicindependence leading to greater and a growthin marriagedelays, a risingincidenceof nonmarriage, effects. However,the apnot to mention fertility the maritalinstability, to plicationof search theory the problemindicatesthatthe changesin behavmarriage involvement lead to changing will lifetime labor-market ior forotherreasons as well-some of which are unrelated the ecoto with it. Hence, effect, thoughotherswill interact nomic-independence theindependence thanitis due, effect probably is beinggivenmorecredit 582

Marriage especiallygiven the persisting strongdifferentials female/male in earn21 ings. Search theoryindicates,first, that as women'slabor-market attachmentshave grown,schoolinghas become moreimportant, indicated as bythesubstantial in women'scollegeenrollments. a consequence, rise As the opportunity costs of dropping out of school beforecompletion of or missing othertraining opportunities have been risingforwomen. Yet a ''premature" commitment a marriagemay requirejust such dropout to behavior. Second, the natureof the matching processchangesas women'swork involvementbecomes more lifelong,although the same search and matching mechanisms operative.Previously, husband'smarket are the work was the major factordetermining couple's life-style. the This required adaptationsby both partners the constraints to imposedby the husband'scareer. Now, thereare oftentwo work careers,or potential workcareers,thatcould make possiblyconflicting demandsthatrequire adaptations.As a result, feasibility usingpostmarital the of socialization as a corrective matchingmechanismis declining,placing more of the burdenon assortative mate selectionforproducing good match.This a willlead inevitably a risein age at marriage to and greater marital instability sinceearlyuncertainties about what is beingmatchedare increasingly characteristic females well as males. Seriousmarriage of as searches may thenbe postponeduntilthe emergent natureof each person'sattributesand desired life-style moremanifest. is However,thelength these of periodsofuncertainty varyamongsocioeconomic will groupsand accordingto thenatureofthecareercycle,as well as because ofsuchexogenous circumstances the stateof the economy. as The increasing prevalenceof cohabitation amongyounger people may also represent typeof responseto both the declining one of importance postmarital socializationas a matching mechanismand the increasing uncertainties an earlierage. Cohabitationgets youngpeople out of at high-cost searchactivities duringa periodof social immaturity withbut out incurring what are, formany, the penaltiesof eitherheterosexual isolationor promiscuity, it often and offers manyof the benefits marof riage,including poolingof resources the and theeconomies scale that of living together provide. It also facilitates the kind of interaction that increasesthe knowledgeof oneselfand of a potentialmarriagepartner and of the kind of mutual adaptationsthat are so essentialto stable
21 For example, theearnings full-time of year-round female workers have remained closeto60% ofmales'earnings since1956.However, between 1980and 1986itdidrise from 60.5% to 65% (Englandand Farkas 1986,p. 163; U.S. BureauoftheCensus 1987,table 1).


American Journal Sociology of relationships. can therefore It serveas an important preludeto marriage itself-as an extension thecourtship of process(Cherlin1981,pp. 14 ff.). However, cohabitation also providessome of the advantagesof remaining single.While it may currently people up (though tie not as muchas marriage), influence future its on matingbehavioris muchless, and the long-run financial obligations also relatively are low. In short, cohabitation can be viewed as one typeof adjustment delaysin the optimum to conditions assortative for matings. Third,paid employment itself now has greater marriage-market functionsforwomen,especially duringa periodwhenyoungmen'seconomic positionis increasingly uncertain the school-leaving at ages, thereby reFor of ducingthemarriage-market efficiency highschoolsand colleges.22 example, work can provide a desirablemarriage-market setting at or, least, social networks thatextendthe perimeter the individual'smarof riage market.Work also providesthe fundsforcreatingan attractive image and for the leisure activitiesthat further enlargethe effective If of boundaries themarriage market. workbecomesincreasingly importantin servingthesemarriage-market functions, thenobviouslythe natureof the work,the "suitability" the worksetting, kindsof conof the tacts it can offer,and the money it bringsin all become extremely important young women-whether or not theyare set on lifelong to "careers."23 And ifthe marriage-market functions workare increasing of in importance whilethoseof schoolsare decreasing, despitelaterschoolleavingages, thenage at marriage will inevitably rise. effects We may also incorporate some of the economic-independence into the search model. For one thing,greatereconomicindependence subsidizes searchingin marriage marketsand reduces the economic an This probably penaltiesassociatedwithnonmarriage. encourages inof creasein risktakingby some youngwomenin theform setting higher for minimum levels of acceptability a prospective spouse. This, in turn, will lead to later marriages and increasethe chancesof nevermarrying since the older a woman is, the smallerthe pool of moreeligiblemales.
22 Furthermore, marriage-market the function universities shifted time. of has over In thepostwar period, increases theproportion young in of menand women attending college improved marriage-market the potential colleges universities. of and However, forwomen, marriage-market the efficiency colleges declined of has withtheconvergence theproportions young in of menand women attending universities. thesex Thus in ratioofthoseaged 14-34 enrolled college dropped from in 1964to 103in 1984 161 (U.S. BureauoftheCensus1985,p. 6). 23 In fact, moreextensive schooling employment a relatively and in high-level career (though necessarily a high not at levelwithin mayreduce it) somekinds search of costs becauseofgreater accesstoand improved knowledge abouta more select group men of of as well as the prematching has occurred that becauseall will have certain types in training workexperiences common. and


Marriage However,thegrowing prevalanceofdivorceand ofdelayedmarriage, for bothsexes, reducesthisriskfornew cohorts entering marriage markets sincethesupplyofsuitablematesis disappearing a slowerrate,thereby at decreasing penaltiesof delay. Workmay encouragemarriage the delays not onlybecause it reducesthe dependency womenon husbandsbut of also because it increasestheirindependence parentsas well, thereby of decreasing latter'sabilityto exerteffective the on pressures theirdaughtersbothto marry and to marry an earlyage. at will be another Women'sgreater economicindependence factor reducing the importance adaptive socialization achievinga good match. of in Whenwomen'smarket to duration and subordinate their workis ofshort husbands',thewoman'swillingness adapt herlife-style thecircumto to stancesdictated herhusband'scareerhas longbeenan essential by partof the marriagebargain.24Aftermarriage,her continuedwillingness to fulfill bargainhas frequently this been assuredby the powerdifferential thewife'seconomicdependenceproduces.However,as women'sattachmentsto market workincreasein strength duration, onlydo the and not adaptive demands made on marriedcouples change, but so does the bargaining positionof each partner.By virtueof her greater economic independence there an increasein theability thewifeto bargainfora is of greater priority beinggivento herlife-style aspirations. The result should be a growing in emphasison premarital of matching the achievement a good matchat the expenseof postmarital socializationas the latterbecomesa less effective morepotentially and conflict-ridden mechanism for developinga good match. This, in turn,discouragesearly marriages because of the greaterdifficulty achievinggood matchesat a time of characterized so much uncertainty by future attriregarding important butes. Marriages are also likelyto become more brittle postmarital if socializationis a less influential the quality of a factorin improving match,thereby increasing maritalinstability. Duringthistransformation women'seconomicrolesin our society, of greater delaysin marriage and higher ratesof maritalinstability may be observedthan will be the case once the situation has stabilized.This is partlybecause, in a rapidlychangingworld, some women will have developed serious work attachments only aftermarriage,leading to a desireto renegotiate their original marriage bargain,a renegotiation that may not always be feasible.In addition,since the possibility a major of workattachment so new forwomen,earlyindications theirfuture is of characteristics, well as their as earlyaccomplishments, morelikely are to be discounted thanare men'sat similar career-cycle stages.This, in turn,
24 I am using theterm "marriage bargain" thesenseWillard in Waller many did years ago (Waller1938).


American Journalof Sociology of weakensthemarriage bargaining position suchwomen,ifthey wantto use theirwork plans as a bargaining chip, untiltheyhave achieved a moreestablishedor irrevocable work identity, and, even then,thereis oftena tendency treata woman's market to workas a temporary expediencyor dalliancerather thanas a morepermanent commitment. Moreover, the discounting women'splans and earlyaccomplishments of increases the risks an early marriageincursbecause of the low priority givento her workgoals.

This paper has utilizeda modified search-theoretic framework argue to thatthetiming thetransition a stableworkcareerhas an important of to impact on marriagetiming.If so, then gender-differentiated economic roles will, through the assortativematingprocess,promotesex differencesin marriage The reasonsforthisare theparamount timing. importance of men's economicrole in the family, combinedwiththe varying of adultworkroles. of degrees youthful uncertainty aboutthenature their in variations the and Moreover,thereare both cross-sectional temporal on of of to timing thetransition theseroles,depending a variety factorssecular economicchange, wars, occupation,business-cycle conditions, For is and so forth. thetraditional woman,on theother hand,there much less lifecycle-related uncertainty about herfuture attributes. One result ofthesesex differentials theage pattern uncertainty thecommonly in is of for observedlaterage at marriage males. However,the age at marriage forboth sexes will be heavilydependenton the timing youngmen's of into relatively And as long as men's stable occupationalcareers. entry the economicrole in the family remainsof considerable importance, natureof the economicprospectsof youngmales should continueto be a major factorin the marriagetimingof females,as well as of males, behavior. despitechangesin women'slabor-market roleswilllead to corresponding Changesin gender changesin theage at in labor-market attachmarriage partbecause a woman'smoreextensive ment(whether is desiredor not)adds another of exogenous set factors it increases requiring adaptations bothhusbandand wife.This, in turn, by in the importance maritalselection of over postmarital socialization fosa about tering good match. It also raises the level of earlyuncertainty women'sattributes thatit morecloselyresembles so thatof males. Both thesechangesshouldlead to marriage delays. In sum, all thesefactors result variations theage at marriage in in can foster recent the trends towarddelayedmarriage and and, in particular, maritalinstability. on greater But this is due to theireffect assortative economic matingand is quite aside fromthe issue of women'sgrowing 586

Marriage independence and its possibleeffect the gains to the marriage.Howon ever,I have also discussedherethe influence the independence of effect on the assortativematingprocess and, through this, raised additional questionsabout the reduced-gains-to-marriage argument the major as explanation recenttrendsin marriagebehavior.The issue turns,in for part, on the important distinction betweenwhetherwomen's growing economicindependenceis reducing,or even eliminating, gains to the in marriage generalor whether is primarily gainsto somemarriages it the that have declined?The first alternative suggeststhat marriage,as an institution, on thedecline,and perhapsevenaboutto disappear,particis in ularlyif sex differentials earningsdecrease markedly. Afterall, we could reasonthatif,despitethepersistence substantial of differearnings entials,thegainsto marriage have alreadydeclinedso muchthatmarked changes in marriagebehaviorhave occurred,what will happen if the is earnings differential greatly reducedor even disappears?Taken to the thisargument quite unattractive extreme, has as implications it tendsto push people into one of two polar positions.If marriage,as a social institution, deemedimportant thestability society is for of and thereproductionand socialization the nextgeneration, of thenthe priceof women's growing economicindependence will increasingly seen as fartoo be high since it will signify major decline in our society.Here we are a of pushedintotheposition theNew Right.On theother hand,ifmarriage is viewed as the major instrument theoppression women,thenits for of demise via the expandingeconomicrole of women will eitherbe celebrated or, at least, considereda regrettable unavoidable price for but women'sliberation. Is it reallynecessary be forcedinto one or the otherof thesepolar to alternatives? thispaper,I arguethatitis not-partly becausethere In are nonindependence reasons for the changes, but also because a searchtheoretic framework revealshow greater economicindependence recan duce thegainsto some marriages without on necessarily havingan effect the gains to marriagein general.This is because greater independence allows women to set a higherstandardfor the minimally acceptable match-that is, theyneed notbe forced settle a poor-quality to for match or to remainin it despiteconsiderable unhappiness. The consequenceis an increasein delayedmarriage withsome accompanying riskof greater nonmarriage, well as higher as maritalinstability. all thisis consisBut tentwithcontinued highgains to marriage well as witha continued as desireto marry.25 What it suggests, however,is an increasein the "fric25 For example, the 1980 Studyof American in Families,Thornton Freedman and found thatonly 33% ofthe18-year-old daughters wouldbe bothered great "a deal" by notmarrying another and 34% wouldbe bothered "some."However, 97% did expect to getmarried (Thornton Freedman and 1982).


American Journal Sociology of tion"withwhichthe family system functions rather than its disintegration.In thisway, theapproachdevelopedhereprovides number less a of apocalypticand more theoretically empirically and challenging alternatives to the reduced-gains-to-marriage hypothesis an explanationof as recent trends marriage in behavior.
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