June 28, 2018

Young adults today are marrying at lower rates than previous generations, and self-reports suggest that a lack of economic security plays a role in the decline. However, it is unclear which aspects of economic security truly matter with regard to young adult marriage rates: At the aggregate (county) level, is it a matter of employment, wages, poverty, or housing? Or, do all these factors matter? Moreover, how does the measurement of each concept matter to understanding how an economic prerequisite to marriage may operate among young adults?  Finally, are the economic characteristics of men more relevant to marriage rates than those of women, as research about previous generations suggests? Using five-year estimates (2012-2016) from the American Community Survey at the county level, this study finds that labor force characteristics, wages, poverty, and housing (e.g., housing costs and living arrangements) are all associated with marriage rates among young adults, but there are factors within each economic category that tend to be more closely associated with marriage rates than others. Moreover, there was little evidence that men’s economic characteristics are more often significantly associated than those of women, as estimates suggest that the economic characteristics of both men and women matter to marriage among young adults today.

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