Unequal marriage markets for Black and White women

Joanna Pepin and I have posted a new paper titled, “Unequal marriage markets: Sex ratios and first marriage among Black and White women.” In the paper, we find that the marriage markets of Black and White women are very different, with Black women living in metropolitan areas that have many fewer single men than White women do. And, in a regression model with other important predictors of marriage, this unmarried sex ratio is strongly associated with the odds of marrying.

We count this as evidence on the side of “structure” over “culture” in the debates over the decline in marriage. Here’s the main result, showing Black and White women in 172 metro areas (scaled for size), and the difference in sex ratios (the horizontal spread), the difference in marriage rates (the vertical spread), and the statistical effect of sex ratios on marriage (the slopes).

mmpif2

In a nutshell: As you move from left to right, there are more men, and higher odds of marriage. And almost all the White women are up and to the right compared with the Black women. One implication is that this could be one reason why marriage promotion programs in the welfare system aren’t working.

There are a couple of noteworthy innovations here. First, we used the American Community Survey marital events data, which is marriage happening (did you get married in the last year?) rather than just existing (are you married?). This is a better way to assess what might influence marriage. Second, young people, especially single young people who might be getting married, move around a lot. So what is their marriage market? It’s impossible to say exactly, but we define it as the metro area where they lived one year earlier, rather than just where they live now. (This is especially important because the people who move may move because they just got married.)

The paper is on SocArXiv, where if you follow the links you get to the project page, where we put most of the data and code. The paper is under review now, and we’d love to know if you find any mistakes or have any suggestions.

(This began with a blog post four years ago in which I critiqued a NYT Magazine piece by Anne Lowrie about using marriage to cure poverty. Then we presented a first pass at the American Sociological Association in 2014, and I put some of the descriptive statistics in my textbook, and we made a short video out of it, in which I said, “So, larger social forces — the economy, job discrimination, incarceration policies, and health disparities — all impinge on the ability of individuals to shape their own family lives.” Along the way, I presented some about it here and there, while thinking of new ways to measure marriage inequalities.)

6 Comments

Filed under Me @ work, Research reports

6 responses to “Unequal marriage markets for Black and White women

  1. Sam Perry

    Really cool study, Philip. I’ll talk about this in my race and ethnicity course today.

    Quick question. Just eyeballing the figure, If I were to draw a trend line marking off the slopes for both black women and white women, it looks as though the slope for black women is more shallow than for white women. In other words, as the marriage market becomes more favorable (more available men), the probability of marriage seems to increase more for white women than for black women, holding other factors constant. Perhaps I’m reading that wrong, I looked at your paper on SocArXiv and I didn’t see that you checked for an interaction there. But perhaps I missed that?

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    • Thanks. They’re separate models by race, so no interaction. It looks like the slope is steeper for White women in the figure, but in the model the odds ratio is actually a little bigger for Black women, so don’t know how much to make of it. (We gave up trying to nail down an estimate of how much the sex ratio contributes to the marriage gap. Looks substantial, but that seems as useful a thing to say as something that involved a specific but very hypothetical number.)

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