The long route to first marriage? Cross-cohort differences in the relationship between work history and partnership formation for British men

Erzsébet Bukodi, University of London

This paper investigates the relationship between work histories and first partnership formation for British men. Competing hypotheses are put forward about the association of work and partnership trajectories, deriving from rival approaches, such as ‘career uncertainty’ or role-specialisation hypotheses. Analyses bearing on these hypotheses are based on data from two British birth cohort studies relating to people born in 1958 and 1970. The availability of a full record of both partnership and work histories in these cohort studies makes it possible to carry out a dynamic investigation of the relationships between life-course employment and occupational earnings trajectories and partnership formation. Further, these studies are also unique in the range of information they include on the explanatory variables that may influence both work and partnership histories: e.g. different aspects of social origins, personality features and educational attainment and qualifications. In most respects, the findings support the ‘uncertainty’ hypothesis: i.e. high rates of cohabitation relative to marriage reflect uncertainties in the economic situation of young men, notably greater instability in their occupational earnings histories. However, while the common belief is that the association between features of men’s work histories and their incentives for partnership formation has weakened, my results do not support this view. It rather seems to be the case that different features of men’s work histories become more important at a later stage of the process of partnership formation, when turning cohabitation into marriage.

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Presented in Session 18: Economics and labor market issues