Bryan Caplan  

Why Do Married Men Make So Much Money?

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If you've ever played around with wage or income data, you've probably noticed that married men make a lot more money than every other combo of gender and status.  If your econometric model allows marriage to affect men's and women's earnings differently, you quickly explain a big chunk of the male-female and black-white gaps.  But if you step away from the stats and think about the labor market, this huge marriage effect is a puzzle.  What exactly is going on?

I just ran across an interesting twin study, "Are All the Good Men Married?," that poses and answers this question.  The punchline:
Our estimates suggest that marriage increases men's wages by as much as 27%, and that little, if any, of the cross-sectional relationship between marriage and wages is due to selection.
Despite my fondness for twin studies, in this case I think I'd be more convinced by longitudinal data for a big sample of singletons.   But even there, mightn't men be marrying on the basis of their imminent prospects?

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COMMENTS (26 to date)
RobertB writes:

Simple explanation is that women in marriages on average do a substantial amount of uncompensated work that contributes to the welfare of both parties. The husband can focus on compensated work, and experiences an increase in earnings.

caveat bettor writes:

Doesn't a woman's preference for a man's salary deserve consideration for causality?

John writes:

This one is obvious: women want to marry dudes who make more money.

SteveC writes:

Or maybe men who make more money are, ceteris paribus, better able to attract a mate.

Randy writes:

Correlation is not causation. My guess is that the same attributes are beneficial in both marital and work relationships. Appearance, willingness to submit for the good of the team, long term perspective, etc.

Derek Conjar writes:

That sounds about right. I don't plan on marrying until I'm filthy rich. Perhaps it mostly reflects stability, and the discrepancy between married men and women accounts for the possible cost of pregnancy.

kingstu writes:

Women who marry men want stuff. If men want to stay married they deliver the stuff.

Any questions?

Kit writes:

Simple. Married men work longer hours. ;)

Les writes:

The sample data show the following:

More Than

So the married men have substantially more education than the unmarried men.

Is it surprising that the married men earn more? Is it because they are married, or because they are more educated?

Steve Miller writes:

Why do men die before their wives?

They want to.

Michael writes:

I keep getting nagged until I ask for a raise.

Dr. T writes:

The explanation for the higher pay of married men is simple. Most of the attributes that make a man attractive to a woman over the long term (marriage) are the same attributes that will help the man do well in the business world. These attributes include attractiveness, ability to work with others, a drive to succeed, intelligence, a strong sense of responsibility, etc.

I hypothesize that if you match single men and married men with similar attributes (a case control study), you would find similar incomes for the two groups. Marriage is just a proxy for a group of variables that lead to financial success.

JPIrving writes:

My boss (an economist) claims that the only married man (and only parent) in our office is the least risky of the staff to employ. His reasoning is that the married male worker has more to do at home and thus less time to search for another job, and a greater need for his wages.

This effect is likely to be most pronounced at high skilled, high wage jobs, kind of an efficiency wage effect.

Patrick writes:

JPIrving writes:
My boss (an economist) claims that the only married man (and only parent) in our office is the least risky of the staff to employ. His reasoning is that the married male worker has more to do at home and thus less time to search for another job, and a greater need for his wages.

This effect is likely to be most pronounced at high skilled, high wage jobs, kind of an efficiency wage effect.

- That seems too simplistic. More likely, married men with families are more risk averse...thus they are less likely to look for jobs. While time certainly plays a factor, it must pale in comparison to risk aversion.

Bill Drissel writes:

A married man's "social" life is already taken care of ... requires less spending, drinking, leaving work early, staying up late .... less fancy car


Jacob Oost writes:

Thomas Sowell covers this in Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality? He argues that married men increase their participation in the labor force (i.e. they work more and produce more), and have the incentive to invest more in their own human capital than do other demographics (e.g. getting a *real* degree at college).

j writes:

Family men need the money, making them better slave material, which is aknowledged and rewarded by employers.

Dave writes:

These comments are hilarious. The abstract gives the paper's major findings on the marital wage premium:

- it is not due to selection effects

- it does not seem to be due to household specialization.

About half the comments here assert one of these two non-facts without explanation.

Given that men can be single, married with various numbers of children, divorced, or widowed, I'm not sure there's one explanation. But, roughly speaking, I could believe that married men have a higher utility-of-money to utility-of-leisure ratio.

It could also be related to hormonal changes that occur when men are in relationships and have children. These things make men less aggressive and more prosocial, which works out well in most workplaces, contrary to what a lot of people seem to enjoy believing about 'alpha males'.

mark writes:

I am single and I probably wouldn't or couldn't be at my current job because of low pay if I was married. I would like to contribute at least 50% of the household income and my current job would make that difficult. A small factor but I thought I would add it.

Maximum Liberty writes:

Look at what birds do throughout the year. Before mating season, they eat a lot. During mating season, they turn pretty colors, groom a lot, puff themselves up, strut around, squawk a lot, and maybe build a nest (all depending on the species). After mating season, they tend the nest. When chicks come along, they bring food.

Same with humans. Unmarried men spend a lot of time and energy doing things that _attract_ a mate. Married men spend a lot of time doing things that _keep_ a mate (and that are intended to ensure the success of offspring, despite the statistical evidence that investing in quality offspring is a bad deal).

It's not selection. It's not household specialization. It's a behavioral change.


shifted writes:

This is something I've witnessed and worked out a few native theories to, with no data at all to back it up :) Married men, especially married men with children have alot more debts to meet, college funds, life insurance, all the other things associated with child raising, not to mention all of the financial costs of maintaining a relatively happy relationship, so despite higher earning, their disposable income is probably much lower, after cars and education for children.
I've also seen the concept that the economist was talking about; a friend of mine who lacks communication skills and education (no hs degree) spent most of his single adult live doing under the table construction, and then suddenly he was having twins, and getting married, and about 3 months later he was a manager at a automotive chain making over 70000 a year, which left me flabbergasted. Kids and a wife are obligations that do spell out long term leverage to employers; one is less likely to be erratic, take risks, or speak their mind when they disagree when they have those college accounts and car insurance escrow's to pay into. It is in an employers interest to tend towards employees that are less risky, making sure they get a return on investment for training and hiring costs. I don't find this disenheartening though. I'm sure kids and wife eat up more than that 27% bonus, and the free time, and ability to pick up and go where I please when a situation brings me more stress than its worth is a benefit that I would find hard to monetize

The Cupboard Is Bare writes:

@ Shifted

I agree with what you had to say. A human resources employee once told me that married men generally receive more compensation than single men, and single women generally receive more compensation than married women (however, married men generally received more compensation than single women). The reasoning...married men had a family to support and a single woman had to support herself.

Also, for positions that were gender neutral, married men would frequently be hired over single women; because the perception was that the women would eventually get married, have children and leave OR need additional time off. However, if the woman was older and past child-bearing years, then she would be in the running for the position.

As a married female, I would at times remove my rings prior to a job interview. I discovered that employers who knew I was married would frequently ask about my husband's profession (and on one occasion even went so far as to inquire as to his salary). Up until my late 40's, I would also be asked if I had young children or still had children at home (on one occasion, I was even asked if I would be willing to vacuum the office). These interviews frequently resulted in lower paying job offers than those positions where the employer did not know, inquire or even seem to care as to whether or not I was married.

Adam writes:

There's a similar study that looks at shotgun weddings to get around the selection problem. They also find a very small part of the marriage premium is explained by selection.

guthrie writes:

I suggest, along with shifted, that a married man has more incentive to persue higher paying work, and work longer hours. Once someone feels 'responsible' for someone else, it would seem ambition kicks in.

B.B. writes:

You did not discuss children at all. Odd omission.

Here is the test. How do married men with no children compare to single men with no children? Ditto for women.

Children make all the difference in motivating men to work harder to provide the extra income, education, and possibly an inheritance. Most married men have children; most single (never married) men do not.

There need to be controls for those who get divorced.

Finally, standard of living in countries is calculated by comparing per capita income, not total income. Why not do that for households?

So what if a single man, no dependents, has a lower income than a married man? Does the married man have to support three kids and a stay-at-home mom? Spread the income over the household and the single man doesn't look so bad. Also, why do we not compare inequality in leisure along with inequality in income?

David T writes:

As many others have already stated, a wife and kids soon provide strong incentives to try and earn more. If I were single, I would prefer to pursue a job that interests me more even it paid less. But, being married with kids, I don't have that luxury. I'm constantly under pressure to bring home more and more bacon!

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