Marriage prospects of skilled and unskilled women new evidence

When social norms and women’s opportunities interact: Effects on women’s marriage prospects by education

Marriage rates of skilled and unskilled women have evolved quite differently across countries since 1995. The rate is leaner overall for skilled women however the gap is narrowing, and even reversing, in a few countries. This column uses evidence from 23 countries between 1995 and 2010 to consider how skilled women’s labour market opportunities impact their marriage prospects in various societies. Generally, more conservative societies have lower marriage rates for skilled women in accordance with unskilled women, with the consequences of a rise in skilled women’s wages with respect to the amount of conservatism.


It is popular that marriage rates have already been declining throughout a lot of the industrialised world. This overall trend has received widespread attention, and influential work has discussed the marriage market and fertility implications of women’s advancements in education and labour markets (Becker 1973, Goldin 2006, Stevenson and Wolfers 2007, Greenwood et al. 2012).

A somewhat overlooked facet of the discussion surrounding the entire decline in marriage is that the marriage prospects of skilled and unskilled women have evolved quite differently across countries. In america, historically, college-educated women have already been the least more likely to marry. However, recent research has documented a reversal as time passes of the skilled-unskilled marriage gap, with college-educated women today as more likely to get married as their unskilled counterparts (Isen and Stevenson 2010). On the other hand, numerous countries in East Asia and Southern Europe have already been grappling with the reverse phenomenon, with highly educated women today marrying at an especially low rate, in comparison to less educated women (Economist 2011, Hwang 2015). This retreat from marriage has widespread social implications.

Trends in the marriage prospects of skilled versus unskilled women across countries

In a fresh paper, we use data from 23 developed countries from 1995 to 2010 to systematically document differences in the gap in marriage rates between skilled and unskilled women across countries, and its own evolution as time passes (Bertrand et al. 2016). As shown in Figure 1, while skilled women overall marry at a lesser rate than unskilled women, it would appear that this gap has been decreasing – in some instances even reversing – in THE UNITED STATES, most Nordic countries, plus some elements of Western Europe. On the other hand, the gap has remained constant or widened in East Parts of asia as well as elements of Southern Europe.

Figure 1 Difference in ever-married rates between high-skilled and low-skilled women from 1995 to 2010, by country

A framework for understanding cross-country differences in marriage gaps

To describe the divergence in marriage market prospects for skilled women in accordance with unskilled women across developed countries, we propose a model that ties together the actual fact that in a few countries, men overwhelmingly disapprove of married women working and the low marriage prospects faced by skilled women.

The main element ingredient in the model is that negative social attitudes toward working women generate spousal disagreement over the provision of family members public good. Since skilled women have higher wages, they offer less of the general public good in accordance with unskilled women (for simplicity, in this model, we assume that unskilled women usually do not work and devote almost all their time to household production). This can make skilled women less attractive as a potential mate in the marriage market. Nevertheless, as the labour market opportunities of skilled women rise, they become a lot more attractive as husbands begin to value their higher income.

Therefore, assuming slow-changing social norms, the model predicts a U-shaped relationship between your skilled-unskilled marriage gap for women and their marriage rates. Intuitively, at low wage levels, increases in market work because of an increase on the market wage lowers the marriage prospects of skilled women, because the loss in public areas good consumption is too big in accordance with the husband’s utility gain from the upsurge in the wife’s wages. When the marketplace wage is high enough, further increases on the market wage increase skilled working women’s attractiveness in accordance with unskilled non-working women, as their higher income a lot more than compensates for losing in utility from the under-provision of the general public good.

We can utilize this model to consider how skilled women’s labour market opportunities impact their marriage prospects in two societies, one with an increase of traditional gender norms and another with an increase of gender-equal norms. In the more traditional society, husbands place a lesser weight on the wives’ careers and earnings. Hence the number of wives’ incomes over which husbands suffer a disutility from having an operating wife will be bigger than it’ll be in a far more gender-equal society. Basically, in societies with an increase of conservative norms, it requires a larger upsurge in a wife’s economic opportunities to pay a husband for the disutility of an operating wife.

The model has two main predictions. First, everything else equal, more conservative societies must have lower marriage rates for skilled women in accordance with unskilled women, and less proportion of skilled women. Second, the consequences of a rise in skilled women’s wages depends on the amount of conservatism of a society. A rise in wages will raise the marriage gap faced by skilled ladies in more conservative societies, but will decrease it in more gender-equal societies.

Testing the model predictions

We empirically examine the model predictions utilizing a panel of 23 countries for four years (1995, 2000, 2005, and 2010). We concentrate on the marriage outcomes of women between your ages of 35 to 44, as this enables us to see completed first marriage decisions that likely involve children among individuals in each cohort. We measure cross-country differences in gender norms using responses to the statement, “When jobs are scarce, men have significantly more right to employment than women”, from the Integrated Values Survey. We interpret agreement with this statement as expressing the view that it’s more very important to men to be used in the labour market in accordance with women.

The partnership between gender norms and the marriage gap between skilled and unskilled women age 35 to 44 across countries is shown in Figure 2. This year 2010, countries with an increase of conservative gender norms are also countries where educated women marry at a particularly low rate in comparison to less educated women. On the other hand, the relationship is a lot weaker for men. Our model also predicts that in more gender-conservative countries, a lesser fraction of women will probably opt to become skilled, as educated ladies in those countries expect that they can face greater barriers in the marriage market. This is just what we find – countries which have more conservative gender norms may actually have a lesser share of females with a tertiary education, in accordance with males.

Figure 2 Relationship between skilled-unskilled marriage gaps and gender norms by gender this year 2010

Finally, we show that the partnership between your skilled-unskilled gap in marriage rates and skilled women’s labour market opportunities seems to differ markedly across sets of countries in a manner that is in keeping with the predictions of a U-shape relationship derived by our model. Increases in labour market opportunities of skilled women is considerably less likely to enhance the marriage prospects of skilled ladies in more conservative countries, in accordance with less conservative countries. Overall, our model explains 40-55% of the observed upsurge in the marriage gap for the most conservative countries, and 60-80% of the decline seen in the most gender-equal countries.


Our analysis provides some implications for the expected long-run trends of a troubling phenomenon in lots of gender-conservative countries such as for example those in East Asia and Southern Europe. The ‘flight’ from marriage among highly educated women will probably result in a decline in fertility because of this educational group, reinforcing the already low fertility rates in these elements of the world. This may further slow the dynamic adjustment of gender norms to the brand new labour market reality if, as Fernandez et al. (2004) suggest, children of working and educated mothers have a tendency to develop more liberal attitudes.

Nonetheless, all isn’t bleak. Even in the current presence of slow-moving norms, our analysis shows that further improvements in the labour market opportunities for skilled women should ultimately bring about improving their relative marriage market prospects. While we are able to only speculate how long this technique would take, the actual fact that the marriage rate of educated women has swept up to, and perhaps surpassed, that of less educated ladies in more gender-equal countries should give East Asian and Southern Europe hope that the existing phenomenon is transitory.


Becker, G S (1973), “A Theory of Marriage: Part I”, Journal of Political Economy 81(4), 813-46

Fernandez, R, A Fogli, and C Olivetti (2004), “Mothers and Sons: Preference Formation and Female WORK FORCE Dynamics”, Quarterly Journal of Economics 119 (4), 1249-1299

Goldin, C (2006), “The Quiet Revolution that Transformed Women’s Employment, Education, and Family”, American Economic Review 96(2), 1-21

Greenwood, J, A Seshadri, and M Yorukoglu (2005), “Engines of Liberation”, Overview of Economic Studies 72(1), 109-133

Hwang, J (2016), “Housewife, ‘Gold Miss’, and Equal: The Evolution of Educated Women’s Role in Asia and the united states”, Journal of Population Economics 29(2), 529-570

Isen, A, and B Stevenson (2010), “Women’s Education and Family Behavior: Trends in Marriage, Divorce and Fertility”, in J Shoven (ed.), Demography and the Economy, University of Chicago Press

Stevenson, B, and J Wolfers (2007), “Marriage and Divorce: Changes and their Driving Forces”, Journal of Economic Perspectives 21(2), 27-52

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