Effects of Employment on Marriage: Evidence from a Randomized Study of the Job Corps Program

Publication Date: December 17, 2008


This report explores the effects of employment-related outcomes (namely, average hours worked per week and average earnings per week) on the likelihood of marriage. The key challenge in estimating the effects of various employment-related outcomes on men’s or women’s likelihood of marriage is to account for the possibility that family status may affect employment outcomes (reverse causation) and that men and women with particular unobserved traits that make them more likely to be successful in the labor market may be more likely to marry (selection). Burstein (2007) in a recent article noted that in order to meet this challenge “one would need to randomly assign single men to a treatment group that had the effect of increasing their employment and earnings, and then look for the impact on their marital union formation.” This report applies precisely that strategy to generate consistent estimates of the effects of men’s and women’s employment and earnings on their likelihood of marriage.

Data from an experimental evaluation of the Job Corps program, which found statistically significant positive effects on the employment outcomes of both male and female participants, have been the basis for generating the estimates in this report. The random assignment of eligible applicants to program and control groups created the opportunity for a source of variation in employment and earnings that is independent of family structure or the background characteristics of program participants. By applying the instrumental variable (IV) method, we used this exogenous variation in employment and earnings created by the Job Corps intervention to identify causal effects of these employment-related outcomes on the likelihood of marriage for disadvantaged individuals in their twenties.

The most prominent finding of this study is that an increase in employment and earnings via the Job Corps program increases the likelihood of marriage for young women with economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Since the estimates account for the possibilities of reverse causation and unobserved selection (by using IV estimation), the results suggest that for disadvantaged young women, an increase in employment and earnings leads to an increase in marriage rates. The positive effects on women’s likelihood of marriage may be regarded as reflecting the benefits of women’s economic independence as well as the “good-catch” effect in the marriage market.

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