A Male or Female Economic bar to Marriage?: Understanding the Contribution of Men’s and Women’s Economic Precariousness on First Cohabitation Outcomes in the UK, 1991-2017

Lydia Palumbo , University of Turku
Ann M. Berrington, University of Southampton
Peter Eibich, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Over the past 25 years, marriage rates have plummeted in the UK. The age at first marriage rose dramatically, and cohabitation is now the normative way of entering the first co-residential partnership. Over the same timeframe, youth labour market has become increasingly precarious, dominated by low wages, fixed-term contracts and unemployment. The question, therefore, arises as to whether economic precariousness has contributed to the decline in marriage, and if so, whether the capacity for young men to provide the breadwinner role is more important in facilitating marriage than women’s economic position. We contribute to this debate by examining how economic precariousness, represented by indicators for the objective socio-economic status and subjective feelings, has related to the likelihood of marriage or partnership dissolution, between 1991 and 2017. Focusing on cohabiting couple dyads from the British Household Panel Survey and Understanding Society, we examine the relative importance of men’s and women’s precariousness on their cohabitation outcomes through competing risks event-history models. We find that, over historical time, fewer cohabitations have ended into marriage. Couples in which neither partner is in a precarious economic position are most likely to marry; whereas, the presence of at least one precarious partner lowers the risk of marriage and increases the risk of dissolution. Men’s economic precarity is a stronger bar to marriage than women’s, especially if precariousness is measured through objective indicators. Subjective measures do not show similar gender differences, suggesting that women’s concerns about the couple’s precarity could facilitate dissolutions and prevent marriages as men’s.

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 Presented in Session 97. Economic Precariousness and the Family