Decomposing Race Differentials in First Marriage Rates: United States, 1960-2019
I assess Wilson’s (1987) argument that the race differential in the frequency of marriage results from a shortage of marriageable men in the African-American community. Many previous investigators have approached this problem by measuring the local availability of eligible male marriage partners for Black women. These studies have found a significant impact of the availability of marriageable Black men on Black women’s marriage rates, but conclude that only a minority of the race difference in marriage can be ascribed to race differences in the availability of marriageable men.
My analysis simplifies the problem by evaluating the effects of economic characteristics of Black and White men on their own marriage behavior since 1960. I use novel measures of marriage rates derived from microdata together with Kitagawa/Das Gupta decomposition methods to assess the impact of income, occupation, employment status, and institutional residence on race differences in first marriage rates among men. The results show that from 1960 to 1980, race differences in economic composition can fully account for race differences in marriage rates. Indeed, in 1960 and 1970, marriage rates were substantially higher among Black men once compositional factors are controlled. In the 21stcentury the effects of male economic circumstances on race differences in marriage rates have diminished but remain substantial. The importance of male economic characteristics for marriage rates has diminished over the past six decades; this probably reflects the decline of male-breadwinner family and the rising importance of women’s economic resources.