Men’s Earnings Distribution & Marriage

This site includes the online supplement for my manuscript, Some Men Earn More, Some Men Earn Less: Which Men Earn More When They Marry?


This article investigates the effect of marriage on male earnings through an analysis of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1979-2010). Unlike prior research, this article does not assume that marriage affects men who earn a lot the same way that it affects men who earn little. The analysis shows that low-earning men marry around a time in their lives when they do particularly well: their earnings rise before they marry, peak around the fourth year, and then decline. In contrast, among high-earning men, earnings grow after and not before they marry. Recent scholarship questions the direction of causation between marriage and earnings because the average man’s earnings begin to rise shortly before marriage. However, the evidence that selection into marriage rather than effects of marriage explain men’s marriage premium pertains not to all but a subset of men – those at the bottom of the earnings distribution – a group of men also less likely to marry and remain married. For men higher in the distribution, marriage elevates earnings. Thus, ironically, marriage may have a causal effect on male earnings – just not on the earnings of the poor men on whom social scientists and policymakers focus most of their concern about the retreat from marriage. Marriage reinforces preexisting male earnings inequality, by increasing the distance between men at the bottom and top of the distribution. Thus, decreasing socioeconomic disparities in marriage rates will not decrease male earnings inequality—unless by a process which discourages high-earning men from marrying.

Online Supplement

See this menu-driven interface, which provides access to the main, sensitivity and supplemental analyses.