Study identifies those most likely to tie the knot

August 29, 1995

ANN ARBOR—Maybe women have come a long way, but when it comes to deciding whether or not to marry, men still call the shots. That’s one of the implications of a University of Michigan study presented last week at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Washington, D.C.

The study, presented by U-M sociologist Pamela J. Smock, examines various factors affecting the odds that couples who live together will marry.

For the study, Smock and Bowling Green State University sociologist Wendy D. Manning, analyzed data on 387 cohabiting couples from the National Survey of Families and Households, conducted in 1987-88 and again in 1992-94.

Approximately 57 percent of the couples were under the age of 30, and at least 42 percent had attended at least some college.

The researchers analyzed how long each couple had lived together, whether both partners intended to marry, did not intend to marry or disagreed with each about getting married, and each partner’s level of education and economic situation.

In nearly 60 percent of the couples surveyed, partners agreed that they planned to get married. In 18 percent of the couples, partners agreed that they did not intend to marry each other. In nearly a quarter of the couples, partners disagreed with each other about their marriage intentions, with males more likely to say they intended to marry than females.

Those couples who disagreed with each other about their marriage intentions were about 75 percent less likely to marry than couples who agreed. When the woman was the only one who expected to marry, however, the couple had a 42 percent lower chance of marrying. But when the man was the only one who intended to marry, the couple was just about as likely to marry as couples who were in agreement about their marriage plans.

The researchers also found that while the man’s education and earnings were important predictors of marriage, the woman’s education and income mattered hardly at all. A man with less than a high school degree, for example, had a 38 percent lower chance of marrying the woman he lived with than a man with a high school degree. A college degree increased the chances that a man would marry the woman he lived with by 67 percent.

”Intentions to marry and economic prospects each independently influence the likelihood that cohabiting couples will marry,” says Smock. ”But there is a great deal of gender assymetry in the impact of these factors.

”Our findings indicate that men’s economic prospects, and even their intentions for that matter, have stronger effects than their female partners’ on the likelihood of marriage. And that in turn suggests that men’s traditional role as the ‘provider’ remains crucial in fact, even if not in belief.”


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