Marriage Through the Lens of Economics

Hanzhe Zhang

I use economics to investigate marriage patterns. We can imagine a marriage market in which people are "shopping" for their partners and bargain for the prices. This approach is quite useful to understand a set of observed marriage patterns. This approach offers explanations to why educated people tend to marry each other, for example.

I use this approach to study the question: do those who marry earlier earn more? The answer is more complicated than a yes or a no. Empirically, the males who marry between ages 25 and 30 earn the most, those who marry earlier or later earn less, and the unmarried ones earn the least. The pattern is different for females. Observed from the Census data from 1960 and 1980, those who married later tended to earn more, and the unmarried ones earned the most. However, in the recent data (2012), the females who marry after 35 actually earn less than the ones who marry around 30, and the unmarried females earn even less. (Attached graphs illustrate the relationships in 1960 and 2012)

I use a game theoretical model to explain these patterns and changes over time. The model also helps us to understand other gender differences. For example, the model also explains why more women than men go to college in the United States and many other high-income countries.

With the support of the summer grant from the Social Sciences Division, I was able to travel to Israel, Brazil, and Canada for conferences that focus on game theory and matching models. I talked to many experts in the field about my research and received many comments to substantially improve my paper.