Sources of Change in American First Marriages, 1960-2010

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Event Type: 
Seminar Series
Date and Time: 
Monday, February 6, 2017
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Duke University Population Research Institute (DuPRI)

Marriage is one of the most important institutions that structures adult life in the contemporary United States. The overwhelming majority of Americans marry, and the key dimensions of marriage (duration, divorce, widowhood, etc.) play a role in determining individual well-being and in shaping life decisions about work and retirement, housing, health, and savings and investment. Over the past half century, marriage has changed to a tremendous extent, driven in part by the rise of divorce, but also because of other proximate factors shaped by profound changes in the social structure of the country. This study examines sources of change in first marriages in the United States between 1960 and 2010. I extend the multiple decrement life table to incorporate nonrandom mating, which allows us to quantify how changes in marriage, divorce, mortality, education, and assortative mating have shaped trends in first marriages. I use this model to prove that stronger educational assortative mating leads to longer average durations of first marriage. Using data from multiple sources and this model, I show that while divorce was the primary determinant of changes in first marriages between 1960 and 1980, it has played a relatively smaller role in driving change in first marriages between 1980 and 2010. Instead, factors like later age at marriage, educational expansion, declining mortality and narrowing sex differences in mortality, and more intense educational assortative mating have been the major drivers of marital change since 1980.