How College Shapes Union Formation Processes

Kelly Musick, Cornell University
Jennie E. Brand, University of California, Los Angeles
Dwight R Davis, University of California, Los Angeles

Recent work by Brand and colleagues demonstrates variation in the effects of education on economic returns to schooling (Brand and Xie Forthcoming) and fertility (Brand and Davis 2009). College has a greater (positive) effect on economic outcomes and a more deterring effect on fertility among those least likely to attend and complete their degrees, i.e., among those with the fewest socioeconomic advantages. We extend recent lines of inquiry into differential college effects and ask how they apply to union formation. Using data from the 1979 NLSY, we find that college effects are strongest in encouraging marriage and discouraging cohabitation among socially advantaged men and women with the highest propensity to attend college (cohabitation differences statistically significant for men only). These results question an “affordability” model of marriage positing the largest effects of college where the economic gains are greatest. The implications of our results for the changing meaning of marriage and cohabitation are discussed.

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Presented in Session 5: Marriage and Union Formation