NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Higher Wages With Marriage

August 21, 2002

Proponents of further welfare reform want the federal government to encourage marriage because marriage deters poverty. One reason is that marriage boosts the wages of men.

Marriage provides several avenues for deterring poverty, like sharing expenses and specializing in tasks. Using data from the National Survey of Families and Households, researchers have found that marriage boosts the earnings of men:

  • Married males earn 22 percent more than unmarried men, according to an analysis of the National Survey data.
  • Wages rise 6 percent during the first year of marriage, 4 percent in the second year, and 3 percent in the third year.
  • By the fifth year, the total return is 16 percent; by the tenth year it is 24 percent.

Researchers also looked into cohabitation:

  • Men that cohabit earn 13 percent more than those who have never married or cohabited.
  • The researchers point out that only long-term cohabitation results in earning benefits -- short term cohabitation yields no benefits.

However, the benefits of marriage seem to be due to self-selection bias; men who are potentially more economically productive are more likely to be marriageable. However, marriage has a unique effect on men's productivity that cohabitation cannot emulate.

Source: Leslie S. Stratton, "Examining the Wage Differential For Married and Cohabiting Men," Economic Inquiry, April 2002.


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