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Panel A of table 2 presents the estimated effect of the relative wage on marriage decisions before controlling for the average potential wage. Column 1 shows that a 10% increase in the relative wage leads to a 5.1 p.p. (8%) decline in the probability that a woman is married. To put this in perspective, this effect size is of similar magnitude to the increase in the fraction of never-married women following the introduction of the birth control pill and twice as large as the increase attributed to the rise in incarceration (Goldin & Katz, 2002; Charles & Luoh, 2010).16 My estimate implies that approximately 20% of the decline in marriage during the past three decades is attributable to the increase in the relative wage.17 The subsequent columns decompose this result into its two main components: dissolution of existing marriages and decline in first marriage. I find that a 10% increase in the relative wage leads to a 1.9 percentage point increase in the likelihood of divorce, accounting for one-third of the change in marriage rates. The 3.2 p.p. rise in never-married women, an 18% increase, then accounts for the remainder of the marriage decline. This could either reflect a delay of first marriage or a more permanent opting out of marriage. I return to this question in section VD, where I analyze responses separately for younger and older women.

Table 2.

Impact of Relative Wage on Marriage

(1)(2)(3)
MarriedDivorcedNever Married
A: Relative only    
Effect of 10% increase in relative wage −0.051*** 0.019*** 0.032*** 
 (0.014) (0.006) (0.010) 
Observations 23,573 23,573 23,573 
B: Relative controlling for average    
Effect of 10% increase in relative wage −0.048*** 0.017*** 0.031*** 
 (0.009) (0.006) (0.008) 
Effect of 10% increase in average wage 0.079*** −0.044*** −0.027*** 
 (0.011) (0.007) (0.009) 
Mean Y 0.645 0.102 0.245 
Observations 23,573 23,573 23,573 
(1)(2)(3)
MarriedDivorcedNever Married
A: Relative only    
Effect of 10% increase in relative wage −0.051*** 0.019*** 0.032*** 
 (0.014) (0.006) (0.010) 
Observations 23,573 23,573 23,573 
B: Relative controlling for average    
Effect of 10% increase in relative wage −0.048*** 0.017*** 0.031*** 
 (0.009) (0.006) (0.008) 
Effect of 10% increase in average wage 0.079*** −0.044*** −0.027*** 
 (0.011) (0.007) (0.009) 
Mean Y 0.645 0.102 0.245 
Observations 23,573 23,573 23,573 

This table shows the coefficients from estimating equation (1) rescaled to represent the effect of a 10% increase in the relative (potential) wage. The dependent variable is shown in the column heading. Standard errors clustered at the state level, and cells are weighted by the female population in the cell. *p< 0.10, **p< 0.05, and ***p< 0.01.

Source: Census 1980, 1990, 2000, and ACS 2010.

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