, Volume 56, Issue 2, pp 451–476 | Cite as

Job Quality and the Educational Gradient in Entry Into Marriage and Cohabitation

  • Daniel SchneiderEmail author
  • Kristen Harknett
  • Matthew Stimpson


Men’s and women’s economic resources are important determinants of marriage timing. Prior demographic and sociological literature has often measured resources in narrow terms, considering employment and earnings and not more fine-grained measures of job quality. Yet, scholarship on work and inequality focuses squarely on declining job quality and rising precarity in employment and suggests that this transformation may matter for the life course. Addressing the disconnect between these two important areas of research, this study analyzes data on the 1980–1984 U.S. birth cohort from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 to examine the relationships between men’s and women’s job quality and their entry into marital or cohabiting unions. We advance existing literature by moving beyond basic measures of employment and earnings and investigating how detailed measures of job quality matter for union formation. We find that men and women in less precarious jobs—both jobs with standard work schedules and those that provide fringe benefits—are more likely to marry. Further, differences in job quality explain a significant portion of the educational gradient in entry into first marriage. However, these dimensions of job quality are not predictive of cohabitation.


Marriage Cohabitation Precarious employment Inequality 



We gratefully acknowledge grant support from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth (Award No. 39092) and the UC Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. A previous version of this article was presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

Supplementary material

13524_2018_749_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (281 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 280 kb)


  1. Addo, F. (2014). Debt, cohabitation, and marriage in young adulthood. Demography, 51, 1677–1701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Angrist, J. D., & Pischke, J.-S. (2009). Mostly harmless econometrics: An empiricist’s companion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Becker, G. S. (1981). A treatise on the family. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Boushey, H. (2016). Finding time: The economics of work-life conflict. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brenan. M. (2017). Hourly workers unhappier than salaried on many job aspects (Gallup research report). Retrieved from
  6. Bumpass, L. L., & Sweet, J. A. (1989). National estimates of cohabitation. Demography, 26, 615–625.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2015). National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 cohort, 1997–2013 (Rounds 1–16). Chicago, IL: National Opinion Research Center, the University of Chicago [Producer]; Columbus: Center for Human Resource Research, The Ohio State University [Distributor].Google Scholar
  8. Burgess, S., Propper, C., & Aassve, A. (2003). The role of income in marriage and divorce transitions among young Americans. Journal of Population Economics, 16, 455–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Burstein, N. (2007). Economic influences on marriage and divorce. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 26, 387–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carlson, M., McLanahan, S., & England, P. (2004). Union formation in fragile families. Demography, 41, 237–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carrillo, D., Harknett, K., Logan, A., Luhr, S., & Schneider, D. (2017). Instability of work and care: How work schedules shape child-care arrangements for parents working in the service sector. Social Service Review, 91, 422–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cherlin, A. J. (2004). The deinstitutionalization of American marriage. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 848–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cherlin, A. J. (2010). Demographic trends in the United States: A review of research in the 2000s. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 403–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cherlin, A. J. (2015). Labor’s love lost: The rise and fall of the working-class family in America. New York, NY: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  15. Clarkberg, M. (1999). The price of partnering: The role of economic well-being in young adults’ first union experiences. Social Forces, 77, 945–968.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Davis, K., & Blake, J. (1956). Social structure and fertility: An analytic framework. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 4, 211–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dunn, M., & Walker, J. (2016). BLS spotlight on statistics: Union membership in the United States (Spotlight on Statistics Report No. 9-2016). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.Google Scholar
  18. Edin, K., & Kefalas, M. (2005). Promises I can keep: Why poor women put motherhood before marriage. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  19. Ellwood, D. T., & Jencks, C. (2004). The uneven spread of single-parent families: What do we know? Where do we look for answers? In K. M. Neckerman (Ed.), Social inequality (pp. 3–70). New York, NY: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  20. Farber, H., & Levy, H. (2000). Recent trends in employer-sponsored health insurance coverage: Are bad jobs getting worse? Journal of Health Economics, 19, 93–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fligstein, N., & Shin, T.-J. (2004). The shareholder value society: A review of the changes in working conditions and inequality in the United States, 1976 to 2000. In K. M. Neckerman (Ed.), Social inequality (pp. 401–432). New York, NY: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  22. Gibson-Davis, C., Edin, K., & McLanahan, S. (2005). High hopes but even higher expectations: The retreat from marriage among low-income couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 1301–1312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Glynn, S. J., Boushey, H., & Berg, P. (2016). Who gets time off? Predicting access to paid leave and workplace flexibility. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.Google Scholar
  24. Goldstein, J., & Kenney, C. (2001). Marriage delayed or marriage forgone? New cohort forecasts of first marriage for U.S. women. American Sociological Review, 66, 506–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hacker, J. S. (2006). The great risk shift: The new economic insecurity and the decline of the American dream. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Harknett, K., & Kuperberg, A. (2011). Education, labor markets and the retreat from marriage. Social Forces, 90, 41–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Harknett, K., & McLanahan, S. (2004). Racial and ethnic differences in marriage after the birth of a child. American Sociological Review, 69, 790–811.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Henly, J. R., & Lambert, S. J. (2014). Unpredictable work timing in retail jobs: Implications for employee work–life conflict. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 67, 986–1016.Google Scholar
  29. Henly, J. R., Shaefer, H. L., & Waxman, E. (2006). Nonstandard work schedules: Employer- and employee-driven flexibility in retail jobs. Social Service Review, 80, 609–634.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hipple, S. F. (2010). Multiple jobholding during the 2000s. Monthly Labor Review, 133(7), 21–32.Google Scholar
  31. Isen, A., & Stevenson, B. (2010). Women’s education and family behavior: Trends in marriage, divorce and fertility (NBER Working Paper No. 15725). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.Google Scholar
  32. Ishizuka, P. (2018). The economic foundations of cohabiting couples’ union transitions. Demography, 55, 535–557.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kalleberg, A. L. (2009). Precarious work, insecure workers: Employment relations in transition. American Sociological Review, 74, 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kalleberg, A. L. (2011). Good jobs, bad jobs: The rise of polarized and precarious employment systems in the United States, 1970s–2000s (American Sociological Association’s Rose Series in Sociology). New York, NY: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  35. Karlson, K. B., Holm, A., & Breen, R. (2012). Comparing regression coefficients between same-sample nested models using logit and probit: A new method. Sociological Methodology, 42, 286–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kuo, J. C.-L., & Raley, R. K. (2014). Is it all about money? Work characteristics and women’s and men’s marriage formation in early adulthood. Journal of Family Issues, 37, 1046–1073.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lalé, E. (2015). Multiple jobholding over the past two decades. Monthly Labor Review, April.
  38. Lambert, S. (2008). Passing the buck: Labor flexibility practices that transfer risk onto hourly workers. Human Relations, 61, 1203–1227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lichter, D. T., McLaughlin, D. K., Kephart, G., & Landry, D. J. (1992). Race and the retreat from marriage: A shortage of marriageable men? American Sociological Review, 57, 781–799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lichter, D. T., Qian, Z., & Mellott, L. M. (2006). Marriage or dissolution? Union transitions among poor cohabiting women. Demography, 43, 223–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lundberg, S., & Pollak, R. (2015). The evolving role of marriage: 1950–2010. Future of Children, 25(2), 29–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lyonette, C., & Crompton, R. (2014). Sharing the load? Partners’ relative earnings and the division of domestic labour. Work, Employment and Society, 29, 23–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Manning, W., Smock, P., Dorius, C., & Cooksey, E. (2014). Cohabitation expectations among young adults in the United States: Do they match behavior? Population Research and Policy Review, 33, 287–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McClendon, D., Kuo, J. C.-L., & Raley, K. (2014). Opportunities to meet: Occupational education and marriage formation in young adulthood. Demography, 51, 1319–1344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. McLanahan, S. (2004). Diverging destinies: How children are faring under the second demographic transition. Demography, 41, 607–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Mishel, L., Bivens, J., Gould, E., & Shierholz, H. (2012). The state of working America (Economic Policy Institute Book, 12th ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Mood, C. (2010). Logistic regression: Why we cannot do what we think we can do, and what we can do about it. European Sociological Review, 26, 67–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth. (n.d.). NLSY97 sample weights and design effects. Retrieved from
  49. Nock, S. (1995). A comparison of marriages and cohabiting relationships. Journal of Family Issues, 16, 53–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Nock, S. (2005). Marriage as a public issue. Future of Children, 15(2), 13–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Oppenheimer, V. (1988). A theory of marriage timing. American Journal of Sociology, 94, 563–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Oppenheimer, V. (2003). Cohabiting and marriage during young men’s career development process. Demography, 40, 127–149.Google Scholar
  53. Oppenheimer, V., Kalmijn, M., & Lim, N. (1997). Men’s career development and marriage timing during a period of rising inequality. Demography, 34, 311–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Perelli-Harris, B., & Lyons-Amos, M. (2016). Partnership patterns in the United States and across Europe: The role of education and country context. Social Forces, 95, 251–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Perelli-Harris, B., Sigle-Rushton, W., Kreyenfeld, M., Lappegård, T., Keizer, R., & Berghammer, C. (2010). The educational gradient of childbearing within cohabitation in Europe. Population and Development Review, 36, 775–801.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Piotrowski, M., Kalleberg, A., & Rindfuss, R. R. (2015). Contingent work rising: Implications for the timing of marriage in Japan. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77, 1039–1056.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Polikoff, N. D. (2012). “Two parts of the landscape of family in America”: Maintaining both spousal and domestic partner employee benefits for both same-sex and different-sex couples. Fordham Law Review, 81, 735–760.Google Scholar
  58. Presser, H. B. (1999). Toward a 24-hour economy. Science, 284, 1778–1779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Presser, H. B. (2005). Working in a 24/7 economy: Challenges for American families. New York, NY: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  60. Raley, R. K. (1996). A shortage of marriageable men? A note on the role of cohabitation in black-white differences in marriage rates. American Sociological Review, 61, 973–983.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sassler, S. (2004). The process of entering into cohabiting unions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 491–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Sassler, S., & Goldscheider, F. (2004). Revisiting Jane Austen’s theory of marriage timing: Changes in union formation among American men in the late 20th century. Journal of Family Issues, 25, 139–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sassler, S., & Miller, A. J. (2011). Class differences in cohabitation processes. Family Relations, 60, 163–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Sassler, S., & Miller, A. J. (2017). Cohabitation nation: Gender, class, and the remaking of relationships. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  65. Schieman, S., & Plickert, G. (2008). How knowledge is power: Education and the sense of control. Social Forces, 87, 153–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Schmitt, J., & Warner, K. (2009). The changing face of labor, 1983–2008. Washington, DC: Center for Economic and Policy Research.Google Scholar
  67. Schneider, D. (2011). Wealth and the marital divide. American Journal of Sociology, 117, 627–667.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Schneider, D., & Harknett, K. (Forthcoming). Consequences of routine schedule instability for worker health and wellbeing. American Sociological Review. Google Scholar
  69. Schneider, D., Harknett, K., & Stimpson, M. (2018). What explains the decline in first marriage in the United States? Evidence from the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics, 1969–2013. Journal of Marriage and Family, 80, 791–811.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Schneider, D., & Reich, A. (2014). Marrying ain’t hard when you got a union card? Labor union membership and first marriage. Social Problems, 61, 625–643.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Shafer, K., & James, S. (2013). Gender and socioeconomic status differences in first and second marriage formation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75, 544–564.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sohn, H. (2015). Health insurance and risk of divorce: Does having your own insurance matter? Journal of Marriage and Family, 77, 982–995.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Steverman, B. (2014, November 10). What the economy has done to the family. Bloomberg Business. Retrieved from
  74. Sweeney, M. (2002). Two decades of family change: The shifting economic foundations of marriage. American Sociological Review, 67, 132–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Thornton, A., Axinn, W. G., & Teachman, J. D. (1995). The influence of school enrollment and accumulation on cohabitation and marriage in early adulthood. American Sociological Review, 60, 762–774.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Thornton, A., Axinn, W. G., & Xie, Y. (2007). Marriage and cohabitation. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Wang, W., & Parker, K. (2014). Record share of Americans have never married: As values, economics and gender patterns change. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project.Google Scholar
  78. Wilson, W. J. (1987). The truly disadvantaged: The inner-city, the underclass, and public policy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  79. Xie, Y., Raymo, J., Goyette, K., & Thornton, A. (2003). Economic potential and entry into marriage and cohabitation. Demography, 20, 351–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Zangelidis, A. (2014). Labour market insecurity and second job-holding in Europe. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Economics, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland.

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Schneider
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kristen Harknett
    • 2
  • Matthew Stimpson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Department of Social and Behavioral SciencesUniversity of California, San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA

Personalised recommendations