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since June 19, 2001


The Male Marriage Premium

Is the Male Marriage Premium Due to Selection?

The Effect of Shotgun Weddings on the Return to Marriage

http://www.frbatlanta.org/publica/work_papers/wp9705a.pdf (60kB)

Donna Ginther and Madeline Zavodny

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Working Paper 97-5a

October 1997
Revised October 1998

Abstract: In standard cross-sectional wage regressions, married men appear to earn 10 to 20 percent more than comparable never-married men. One proposed explanation for this male marriage premium is that men may be selected into marriage on the basis of characteristics valued by employers as well as by spouses or because they earn high wages. This paper examines the selection hypothesis using a "natural experiment" that may make marital status uncorrelated with earnings ability for some men. We compare the estimated marriage premium between white men whose first marriages are followed by a birth within seven months and other married white men in the United States. Married men with a premarital conception generally have a lower return to marriage than other married men. Our results suggest that a substantial portion of the marriage premium is due to selection.

Full Text: http://www.frbatlanta.org/publica/work_papers/wp9705a.pdf (60kB)

The following graphs were constructed from Table 1 in the reference document.

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The following is an assessment of the paper in relation to the refusal by Harvard Press to print The Case For Marriage, coauthored by Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher.

National Review


The Marriage Premium; A book – and an institution – gets exonerated.

Mr. Kurtz is also a fellow at the Hudson Institute November 15, 2001 9:10 a.m.

A year ago, I wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal exposing a case of egregious political bias at Harvard University Press. In an unusual move, the board of Harvard Press declined to publish The Case For Marriage – a lively, rigorous, and path-breaking study of the advantages of marriage coauthored by respected University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite and syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher. Although The Case for Marriage had garnered two positive reviews from Harvard's own scholarly referees, the Press's Board of Syndics rejected the book at the last minute on the grounds that Waite and Gallagher had failed to prove a causal relationship between marriage and the many benefits that they claimed for the institution.

Harvard's stated reasons for rejecting The Case for Marriage were utterly unconvincing. For one thing, Harvard had already published feminist tracts with scandalously thin empirical grounding by Catherine MacKinnon and Carol Gilligan. (The shaky empirical foundations of Gilligan's In A Different Voice were exposed, to considerable public attention, by Christina Hoff Sommers's book The War Against Boys.) So why not publish Waite and Gallagher's extraordinarily well-researched study? Was this a case of bias against a book that challenged feminist orthodoxy by showing the unique advantages of marriage? You bet it was. (For more on bias at Harvard Press, see "Harvard's Book Problem.") But now, a spectacular new piece of research has provided stunning vindication for the Waite-Gallagher thesis on the benefits of marriage.

What the Harvard Press board was asking Waite and Gallagher to do was next to impossible. The only sure way to make causal judgments about the effects of marriage would be to run a controlled experiment, randomly assigning young people to marriage and singlehood and then following their progress throughout life. But human beings are not guinea pigs. That is why even the very best sociological research generally fails to provide concrete causal proof. Since we cannot easily run controlled experiments on real human beings, we generally have to make causal judgments through inference.

Harvard was obviously holding The Case for Marriage to an impossible standard – and a double standard – in order to suppress the book.

Yet, lo and behold, as reported in the Washington Post, a year later, two creative researchers, Donna Ginther and Madeline Zavodny of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, have actually found a way to do the seemingly impossible. For the first time in the history of research on marriage, Ginther and Zovodny appear to have successfully shown that the "marriage premium" ‹ the tendency of married individuals to make more money than single people ‹ is an actual effect of marriage, and not just a function of a preference shown by both employers and potential spouses for people with qualities likely to bring about success.

Ginther and Zavodny pulled off this neat little trick by studying "shotgun weddings" – marriages that took place after the woman was already pregnant.

Ginther and Zovodny reasoned that couples marrying under such pressured circumstances were likely to include many individuals who might not otherwise marry. If the men in these "shotgun" marriages ended up with greater income than single men with the same sort of background, then the "marriage premium" would be real, and not simply the result of a "selection effect." (The marriage premium applies to working wives as well, but Ginther and Zavodny only studied men.)

It turns out that even men stampeded into marriage by a pregnancy earn about 16 percent more than single guys. Almost 90 percent of the marriage premium remains, even for a group in which selectivity has been substantially short-circuited by the advent of a pregnancy. Of course, even here, a degree of selection bias is bound to exist. Not every couple marries when there is a pregnancy, and it's reasonable to suppose that those who are already most suited to each other, and to marriage itself, are more likely to marry on the discovery of a pregnancy. But the white men in the "shotgun" group earned less, were younger, and had less education than other white men getting married. Clearly, these men were less desirable as husbands, and the marriages were substantially precipitated by the pregnancies. Yet the marriage premium remained. So Ginther and Zavodny appear to have found the "holy grail" of sociological research on the effects of marriage – a way to eliminate selection bias and provide causal proof of marriage's beneficial effects.

When I called Linda Waite for comment on the Ginther and Zavodny study, she was obviously excited. Waite called the study, "pretty amazing," and characterized the results "powerful evidence for a causal effect over selectivity." According to Waite, it was "almost shocking" that a full 90 percent of the marriage premium remained in effect for the "shotgun" couples.

Why the marriage premium? The mutual advice, emotional support, and concrete help that married partners provide to one another seems to free up and strengthen both husbands and wives to succeed at what they do. When married women work, they make more money than single women. When married women mother, on the other hand, their personal financial premium disappears. Yet mothers benefit from something far more valuable ‹ the support and protection of a husband who himself seems to strive (and succeed) that much more for the sake of ‹ and with the help of ‹ his wife and child.

Now that this important causal evidence in support of Waite and Gallagher's The Case for Marriage has emerged, their erstwhile feminist critics will no doubt fall over themselves in the rush to retract their skeptical attacks.

And with causal proof at last secure, surely Harvard University Press will offer to publish the sequel to the rejected book, just as Harvard Press has continued to publish book after book by Catherine MacKinnon and Carol Gilligan. At least, that's what would happen if Harvard Press is motivated – as they say they are – not by ideology, but simply by the highest standards of scholarship.

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See also:

Posted 2001 11 16
2006 03 04 (added link to Feminism for Male College Students)
2007 11 04 (reformated)