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For Young Adults, Economic Security Matters for Marriage

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Young adults today have low marriage rates, and economic security may play an important role in their likelihood to marry.

Using five-year estimates from the American Community Survey (ACS 2012-2016), a new working paper entitled “Millennial Marriage: How Much Does Economic Security Matter to Marriage Rates of Young Adults” finds that socio-economic indicators associated with labor force participation, wages, poverty and housing (e.g., housing costs and living arrangements) all relate to marriage rates for young adults ages 18 to 34.

Specifically, full-time employment, median annual wages for all types of workers, and owning a home were associated with higher marriage rates.

At the same time, the poverty status of women, high housing costs, and living in the home of a parent were associated with lower marriage rates across counties.

Financial Security Matters

The relationship between economic security and marriage is understandable given the expenses associated with weddings, the merging of finances following marriage, the negative impact of financial disagreements on marital outcomes, as well as other factors.

Moreover, there was little evidence that men’s economic characteristics are more often significantly associated with marriage than those of women, as past research has argued. Instead, the findings suggest that the economic characteristics of both men and women matter to marriage among young adults today.

Job Challenges

This study is important given the economic obstacles that young adults have experienced.

Many young adults entered the job market during the Great Recession (2007-2009). Subsequently, that led to high rates of unemployment and underemployment, lower income, higher rates of poverty, and lower rates of homeownership among young adults compared to previous generations.

Based on five-year ACS estimates (2012-2016) of young adults ages 18 to 34, the current study found that the median annual wages for all working young adults is $20,327 per year, the poverty rates are 15.9 percent for young adult men and 21.8 percent for young adult women, and only 9.8 percent of young adults own a home.

Young adult men in particular faced greater employment challenges following the Great Recession, which may explain why the socio-economic characteristics of both young adult men and women are important to marriage rates.

This study shows that understanding the state of marriage in the United States among young adults could depend on understanding the economic security and stability they experience.

Benjamin Gurrentz is a Survey Statistician in the Census Bureau's Fertility and Family Branch.

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Page Last Revised - October 8, 2021
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