Norms and Nuptials: The Changing Social Price of Marriage

Daniel Schneider, Princeton University

Recent qualitative evidence suggests the emergence of norms in the United States requiring couples to wait to marry until they own a home and a car and accumulate financial assets. However, this hypothesis, and the general relationship between asset ownership and marriage, remains understudied. I extend limited existing work on assets and marriage to inform four key debates in the sociology of marriage. Using event history models with three sources of longitudinal data, I find that asset ownership has become an increasingly important predictor of first marriage across recent cohorts, providing an explanation for shifts in first marriage timing. Second, differential asset ownership helps to explain gaps in marriage by race and education. Third, though assets are positive predictors of marriage for men and women, they are valued differently by gender. Finally, I find evidence that assets are valued in marriage primarily for their symbolic rather than their use value.

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Presented in Session 37: Marriage and Union Formation