Family Formation Decisions and a Test of the Marital Expectations Hypothesis

Christina M. Gibson-Davis, Duke University

This study tests the marital expectations hypothesis, a qualitatively-derived theory that posits that low-income couples delay marriage because of its perceived economic requirements, but do not have the same standards for childbearing. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Survey, a study of new unmarried parents, I find that positive changes in couples’ incomes were associated with a 20% increase in the odds of marriage. Marriage odds also doubled if the couple became homeowners. Similar effects on the likelihood of having an additional child were not observed. Relationship quality did not mediate the associations between income, home ownership, and marriage. The decision to marry appears to be more sensitive to changes in income than does the decision to have an additional child.

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Presented in Session 24: Union Formation