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Professional women are starting to reap benefits of marriage

Lindsay Diehl ’22 and Cabot Fowler ’23 were trawling for an interesting research project last summer when their economics professor suggested they peruse a national survey of youth.

Created by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the survey gathered information on labor market behavior and education, following people aged 12 to 16 from 1997 to 2017.

As they read, Diehl and Fowler, both 21, came upon a concept called the marriage premium whereby married men get paid more than single men. They decided to examine the premium more closely and how it’s evolved over time.

“We wanted to study something with younger people or recent graduates because it’s more relevant to people our age,” said Diehl.

“Would there be differences if we got married right out of college” asked Fowler, “and how would that reflect in our wages?”

The math-economics majors controlled for a host of factors including race, occupation, urban or rural workplace, and years of schooling to isolate the change caused by marital status.

They found that on average, married men make 8.6 percent more than single men while married women make 3.8 percent more than single women.

They also found that historically, married women earned no premium at all.

“In the past, we found that there was a strong marriage premium in men, and in women there was … a downside to being married,” said Diehl, a senior who has a double major in business administration.

“In the end we found that women had a marriage premium that was less than half of what men got.”

The students were intrigued by why women originally got no marriage premium and why it’s still less than half that of men. They concluded that it’s because women were seen historically as a flight risk in the workforce.

“(Employers) didn’t want to invest in someone they thought would leave for a year to have babies,” said Fowler, a junior who is also a music major.

Diehl said that was the most surprising part of the research for her.

“People think (women) are going to have children and leave the workplace,” she said. “But today, females are having children later and more women are working after having children compared to the 1900s.”

Over time, the view of women has also changed, she said, adding that the women’s movement can be credited for that. And women are following career paths today they wouldn’t have 50 years ago.

“Slowly but surely, (the marriage premium gap) will grow closer,” Diehl said. “Hopefully, (employers) will look at a female who has all the qualifications, not because she might have a kid in five years.”

Fowler said that although women’s marriage premium is less than men’s, it’s a step in the right direction.

“I’d love to say that men and women … got equal pay. The reality is it’s not how it is,” added Fowler. “But it shows how the labor market is changing and how women play a larger role today than they did 30 or 40 years ago.”

The students also found that on average college-educated people enjoy higher marriage premiums than those without college, get them earlier and they increase each year they’re married, Fowler said.

This could be because they tend to marry others like themselves, and learn desirable workplace qualities from one another, making them more productive over time, he said.

“This is simply one hypothesis,” he said. “There are other theories out there as well.”

The students are excited to be presenting their research at the Issues in Political Economy conference in New York City in February. The research project was funded by the Department of Economics’ Hollingsworth Summer Research Program and supervised by Jeffrey Yankow, who holds the David C. Garrett, Jr. Chair in Economics.

“The students identified an intriguing and interesting research topic, worked hard all summer to carry out the research using a rather large and complex data source, and produced novel and policy-relevant results,” said Yankow. “It is exactly what we hope for in our summer research program.”


Last updated November 29, 2021
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director