Marriage and the global economic crisis

Daniel Schneider, Princeton University

That the global economic crisis has taken a vicious toll on household finances is well known. Stock market values have plunged, unemployment rates have spiked, and, in the United States in particular, foreclosure rates have skyrocketed. But, the reach of the economic crisis may extend beyond household economics to influence household relations, altering plans to divorce, have children, and marry. This narrative is by no means a new one. Social scientists spent the decades following the Great Depression examining how economic hardship and unemployment affected marriage, marital quality, and divorce (Liker and Elder, 1983; Conger and Elder, 1994). Contemporary sociological and demographic theory has shifted the focus from employment to wealth and suggests that the real and financial asset holdings of young men and women may also be important determinants of marriage (Edin and Kefalas, 2005). Against this backdrop, we might expect that the wealth depletion caused by the economic crisis would have had pronounced effects on marriage entry. In this study I make an early contribution to understanding how the current crisis has affected family formation. I draw on a new set of survey data collected in the summer of 2009 by TNS/Research International that was designed to assess the short-run effects of the economic crisis. I examine changes in plans to marry among respondents in six countries: The United States, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and Italy. I show that significant minorities of respondents in each country reported that the economic crisis has made them less likely to marry. Moreover, respondents who have been most affected by the economic crisis in terms of wealth loss are most likely to report diminished plans to marry. This association is robust to adjustment for multiple demographic and economic characteristics and to the inclusion of country fixed effects.

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Presented in Session 50: Human capital, labor force, retirement and economic growth