Be my Valentine? Married men make more money, live longer

For Love or Money: Why Married Men Make More

Be my Valentine? Married men make more money, live longer

Monday, April 1, 2002

Productivity, efficiency, specialization…these issues are not usually associated with marriage. Beyond love and commitment, however, these less-than-romantic factors can be important—at least to economists.

Statistics show that married men earn approximately 11 percent more per hour than men who have never been married, even after controlling for work experience, education, age and other factors.1 Economists also find that divorced or separated men make about 9 percent more than never-married men do.

The wage gap, present at all ages, is even wider for those 45 and older. (See chart.)

Why does this premium occur? Some attribute it to employer discrimination. Others believe that married men make more money because marriage makes them more productive, while still others say that highly productive men are more ly to be married.

A common perception is that employers' bias may be responsible for the fact that married men earn higher wages.

According to this theory, employers take a man's marital status as a signal of how stable or responsible he is and discriminate accordingly.

Alternatively, the employers might, either consciously or unconsciously, give preference to married men, all other things equal, when considering promotions and raises on the grounds that the married employee has a family to support.

This kind of behavior, most discrimination, is hard to demonstrate. If one believes, however, that the social ideas of the importance of marriage in the United States have changed (for example, marriage no longer implies the responsibility to support a family), it might be worthwhile to examine the wage premium over time.

Indeed, economists McKinley Blackburn and Sanders Korenman reported in a 1994 study that the marital wage premium decreased by 10 percentage points between 1967 and 1988.

Because the marital wage premium has decreased over time, it is possible that employer bias has, in fact, played a role and that changing social norms have led to a decrease in the premium.

Another popular theory is that marriage makes men more productive through specialization. Some economists argue that it is efficient for one spouse to specialize in market production—a job that is paid a wage—while the other specializes in tasks relating to the household.

2 One spouse, therefore, can devote more effort to work-related responsibilities if the other spouse is there to take up the slack at home.

If a man spends less time on housework after he is married, then it makes sense that he would see an increase in his wages because the extra time and effort spent at work would increase his productivity and promotion chances.

But is there much difference between married men and single men when it comes to time spent on household chores? A study in 2000 by Joni Hersche and Leslie Stratton says no.

They argue that while marriage does seem to make men more productive in the market (i.e., men begin making higher wages after marriage), household specialization does not seem to be the cause.

They find little difference between married and unmarried men in the time they spend on home production.

If the productivity from marriage itself is not the result of decreased hours spent on housework, as Hersche and Stratton suggest, then where does that improved productivity come from? Because the earnings of divorced or separated men are higher than those of never-married men, the added productivity that accompanies marriage must be of two kinds: (1) productivity from the marriage itself and/or (2) advantages that remain even after the marriage is dissolved. Korenman and David Neumark argue in a 1991 study that the wage premium earned by divorced or separated men is attributable to the advantages gained while married. Their evidence is that wages grow more slowly in the years of divorce or separation.

On the other hand, economist Lawrence Kenny asserts in a 1983 study that a large portion of the wage premium for married men is due to the additional training, education or experience occurring during years of marriage, which would presumably still be effective when the marriage ends.

Some economists have considered the possibility that the causality is reversed: Married men tend to make more money because the traits that make a man a high wage earner are also the traits that make him a good marriage partner.

After all, the qualities listed as desirable for mates are often synonymous with desirable characteristics for an employee: responsible, honest, mature, logical, intelligent and efficient. Perhaps the tendency to take on responsibility at work indicates a tendency to take on responsibility and stability in his personal life.

In an interesting twist, there is evidence that physical attractiveness—which is normally associated with desirability as a mate—also tends to have a positive effect on wages.3

A study in 2001 by economists Robert Nakosteen and Michael Zimmer finds evidence supporting this selection hypothesis. They find that men with higher earning potential are more ly to get married and that they are more ly to stay married. In other words, men who possess the qualities that make them good workers also possess the qualities that make them more ly to marry and stay married.

The choice between the competing theories depends on the direction of causality—i.e., does marriage increase a man's wages, or are men with higher wages more ly to marry? The fact that divorced men earn more on average than those who have never been married seems to discredit the idea that marriage itself causes higher wages.

While it is possible that men gain marketable skills during marriage, the selection hypothesis is more reasonable. Consider the characteristics that a man possesses, including background, education, appearance, etc., which can be observed by a potential employer or a potential wife.

These qualities can be used by either party to evaluate how “successful” the man might be in his career and in his marriage. But there are also characteristics that are important to his personal and professional success that cannot be observed.

If these unobservable characteristics are more important for personal success than for professional success, we can explain why divorced men are paid more than never-married men.

To succeed in his job, a man's performance is his abilities that are specific to his career. In marriage, on the other hand, a man must deal with issues in all areas of life.

Unobservable characteristics, such as the way a man will deal with specific situations, are therefore more critical when it comes to marital success than professional success.

A potential wife and a potential employer might consider similar observable characteristics to evaluate a man, but the potential employer has nearly all of the information he or she needs. Because of this, men with desirable observable characteristics are more ly to be married and to have a higher wage.

If the marriage fails, the wages remain high, which would explain why divorced men make more than men who have never been married. This is consistent with the chart, which shows the wage gap growing after age 45, because most marital decisions have been made by this age and men have been sorted for the rest of their lives into the three categories of married, were married and single.

The selection hypothesis offers the most compelling explanation of the marriage wage gap. We nevertheless cannot discount entirely the alternative explanations. Men might develop valuable skills while married that they retain even if the marriage breaks up.

In addition, we cannot ignore that men who remain married tend to have higher wages than their divorced brethren. Will we ever know exactly why married men tend to make more money than single men do? Probably not. The causal link between marital status and wages might remain an enigma.

It is then no guarantee that a man who becomes married will make higher wages, or vice versa.

Figure 1

While the wage gap between married men and never married men exists in both the 25 to 44 age group and the 45 and older age group, the gap becomes even more significant after the age of 45, when most sorting into and marriage has taken place.

SOURCE: Current Population Survey, 2000.

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  1. Korenman and Neumark (1991) find these results using the National Longitudinal Survey (NLS) of Young Men. Other factors accounted for are survey year, union status, geography, non-spouse dependents, occupation and industry.

    These statistics are white men. However, similar trends have been noted for men of other races. [back to text]

  2. See Becker (1985) for details of the theory.

    [back to text]

  3. Hamermesh and Biddle (1994) find that more attractive employees make higher wages. [back to text]


Becker, Gary. “Human Capital, Effort, and the Sexual Division of Labor.” The Journal of Labor Economics, January 1985, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. S33-S58.

Blackburn, McKinley and Korenman, Sanders. “The Declining Marital-Status Earnings Differential.” Journal of Population Economics, 1994, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 249-70.

Hamermesh, Daniel S. and Biddle, Jeff E. “Beauty and the Labor Market.” American Economic Review, December 1994, Vol. 84, No. 5, pp. 1174-94.

Hersche, Joni and Stratton, Leslie. “Household Specialization and the Male Marital Wage Premium.” Industrial and Labor Relations Review, October 2000, Vol. 54, No. 1, pp. 78-94.

Kenny, Lawrence. “The Accumulation of Human Capital during Marriage by Males.” Economic Inquiry, April 1983, Vol. 21, No. 2, pp. 223-31.

Korenman, Sanders and Neumark, David. “Does Marriage Really Make Men More Productive?” The Journal of Human Resources, Spring 1991, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 248-68.

Nakosteen, Robert and Zimmer, Michael. “Spouse Selection and Earnings: Evidence of Marital Sorting.” Economic Inquiry, April 2001, Vol. 39, No.2, pp. 201-13.


The Unexpected Benefits of Being Single, According to Experts

Be my Valentine? Married men make more money, live longer

There are so many celebrations associated with relationships these days—from engagement bashes, to bridal showers, destination bachelor/ette parties, 14 separate wedding parties (looking at you, Priyanka Chopra Jonas), and all the photo shoots that come with those events—that being single can seem a sad status.

That actually couldn’t be further from the truth, however. There’s so much value in being single that people often overlook, when we should be embracing and appreciating it instead.

When you’re not legally bound to another person, you have the freedom to learn, grow, and explore, without any of the guilt associated with taking time for self-care.

And the payoff there is that if you do decide you'd to pair off with someone, you know exactly who you are and what you want.

The reality is, 110.6 million Americans ages 18 or older (or 45.2 percent) are single, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau—a number that’s been rising since 2015. And people are staying single longer than ever before; in 2018, the highest median ages ever for a first marriage were reported: 30 years for men and 28 years for women.

So even though you’re technically “alone” as a single, you’re far from an anomaly. In this era, you’re actually the norm. Here are the benefits of being single that you can start celebrating:

There's more time to develop strong friendships.

Single people aren’t exactly sitting at home moping about their relationship status, despite the fact that a 2008 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that other people often think singles are unhappy. For what it’s worth, the happiest demographic might just be single, childless women, according to Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioral science at the London School of Economics and author of Happy Ever After.

That happiness isn’t due to their solitary status; in fact, singles actually have super strong relationships. “One of the major benefits of being single is having the space in your life to spend quality time with friends,” says Roxy Zarrabi, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist.

And being single actually increases social connections, according to a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

That’s because they reach out more to their social networks, and give and receive more help from those contacts compared to their married counterparts.

“It’s important to have strong friendships whether you are single or not, but there is no doubt that when you’re single you are able to spend more time deepening the friendships that you find most valuable.” By the way—the better you are at developing your platonic relationship skills, the better prepared you’ll be for a romantic relationship should you decide to pursue one.

And to focus on health.

Research suggests that unmarried people tend to be healthier than their married counterparts. People who were single and had never married exercised more frequently every week than married folks in a survey of over 13,000 people.

Single women were found to have lower BMIs and risks associated with smoking and alcohol than married women, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health. And perennially single men, for their part, were less ly to suffer from heart disease than those with any other marital status, research published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found.

Of course, take this all with a grain of salt, but it can be suggested that those who are single have more time to focus on exercise, etc.

Which includes having more sex.

Finally, just to throw this out there, single people are having sex more often than married people are, according to an analysis of survey data collected from more than 26,000 people between 1989 and 2014.

You learn about yourself.

“One of the most important relationships you will have is with yourself,” says Zarrabi. “Being single can provide a valuable opportunity to learn about your s/diss, embrace your authentic self, and explore hobbies or activities you’ve been itching to try.”

Maybe your last partner hated running, and you’ve always wanted to try a marathon. Or, perhaps you’ve dreamt of traveling to Hawaii, but you were waiting for a partner to share those romantic massages on the beach with. Instead, embrace your own independence.

“Being single, you’ll learn to value your freedom, make decisions for yourself, and become more accountable for your choices, actions, and goals,” says Russell Thackeray, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in the UK.

“People who can make their own choices and choose when and how they connect with other people develop their own ‘inner strength,’” he adds.

Remember: No partner “completes” you—you need to be a whole, happy person on your own before sharing your life with someone else.

And you'll have fewer regrets.

“It’s not uncommon for people who didn’t have a chance to explore life on their own terms to experience regret,” says Thackeray. Use your single status as an opportunity to be a little selfish about your desires.

The reason is twofold: “The more you spend time with yourself and get clear about what your values are, the more ly you are to attract the type of partner that is the right fit for you,” explains Zarrabi.

That is, of course, if that's of interest to you.

Selfishness is a healthy state to experience, adds Thackeray. “It lets you maintain a sense of self-­identity when interacting with others,” he explains. Many people (often women) can vanish in a relationship as a ‘wife’, ‘partner’, mother’ to the point where who ‘they are’ is lost.”

How do you enjoy being single?

Spoiler alert: There’s no prescription for loving single life. Just live the life you want to live. The best part of not having to share your life with someone is that you can do all the things that fulfill you. And when you're prioritizing your friendships, making time for new hobbies, and keeping yourself healthy and fit, how can you not enjoy yourself?

That doesn't mean you'll be happy 100 percent of the time. “The ability to be on your own without becoming lonely is a skill,” says Thackeray. It takes time and practice. But “it is one of the greatest learnings a single person accomplish.”

Is being single better than being in a relationship?

That’s a trick question, because of course there’s no right answer. “With either choice, there are advantages and drawbacks, so this depends on what your current priorities as well as values are,” says Zarrabi.

“Many people fall into the trap of listening to what society or others think is best for them rather than listening to themselves when it comes to making this choice,” she adds.

If you’re happy being single, don’t change that just because you’re experiencing societal (or social media) pressure to be in a relationship. If your current relationship isn’t making you happy, don’t stay because you feel you have to be paired up.

And if you love the idea of being in a committed partnership, by all means, find your person.

But the most important thing, really, is that if you’re hoping to have a happy relationship with a long-term partner in the future, you have to learn how to be happy being single first. As RuPaul says, you have to love yourself before you can let someone else love you.

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Health, Marriage, and Longer Life for Men

Be my Valentine? Married men make more money, live longer
Research Brief

Numerous studies covering 140 years have shown that married persons tend to live longer than their unmarried counterparts.

Attempts to explain this advantage have typically focused on the following questions: Does marriage have a direct protective effect, reducing the risk of mortality by providing benefits such as improved health? Or does increased longevity reflect the possibility that healthy people are more ly to get married—and therefore that married people are simply healthier from the start of their married lives?

The focus of these questions suggests that the connection between longevity and the married state can be explained only by “protection” provided through marriage or by “positive selection” into marriage because of good health.

However, a third consideration may also offer insights into the relationship between marriage and health. If being married is a way of gaining increased protection against illness and death, then persons in poor health may have a greater incentive to seek these benefits by marrying and staying married.

This mechanism may be termed “adverse selection” into marriage and, theoretically, could be as significant a factor as positive selection.

Yet, while it is often suggested that selection may account for at least part of the marriage advantage, previous empirical work has concerned itself with positive selection and has not considered the possibility that adverse selection may also play a role.

Recent research at the RAND Center for the Study of Aging attempts to fill this gap.[1] The researchers use a nationally representative dataset to track more than 4000 men over a 22-year period.

The study analyzes changes in the men's health status alongside the course of their major marital transitions—their history of marriage, divorce, death of a spouse, and remarriage. Overall, the findings indicate that both the protection and selection scenarios help explain the marriage advantage.

On the one hand, good health reduces the risk of mortality and, in certain circumstances, marriage contributes to good health. On the other hand, the health status of individuals does help determine their selection into the married state.

Effects of Marital Status on Health

Analysis of whether marriage directly affects health produces mixed results. Comparisons of currently married and never-married men show that while the former are generally healthier, this difference cannot be attributed simply to the protective effects of marriage.

The self-reported health status of men shows that, by itself, becoming married for the first time does not lead to any noticeable benefits. Comparisons of older married and divorced men, however, show that the relative health levels of the latter drop significantly as they age.

By the time divorced men reach age 50, they can expect their health to deteriorate much faster than the health of those who are married.

For this group of older divorced men, remarriage offers a direct health benefit, bringing their health up to the level of men who have remained married.

The health benefits obtained by men who stay married or remarry stem from a variety of related factors, including care in times of illness, improved nutrition, and a home atmosphere that reduces stress and stress-related illnesses, encourages healthy behaviors, and discourages unhealthy ones such as smoking and excessive drinking. Influences of this type tend to enhance a man's immediate health status and may often improve his chances for a longer life.

Effects of Marital Status on Mortality after Controlling for Health

As men age, their health declines and the risk of mortality increases.

Not surprisingly, however, the level of risk is tied to marital status: married men in their 50s, 60s, and 70s have lower mortality rates than those who are unmarried (never married, divorced, or widowed).

For divorced men, this higher risk of death is explained primarily by their poorer health.

Among never-married men and widowers, however, excess mortality rates are less related to self-reported health status—a finding that raises questions about the factors that lead to earlier death. Previous research has indicated that part of the marriage advantage stems from co-residence with a partner or with other adults. Never-married men may prefer to live alone, thus forgoing the potential life-extending benefits of social integration.

Effects of Health on Marriage Formation and Dissolution

Contrary to conventional wisdom, which assumes that healthier men enter marriage more readily than their less healthy peers, the study shows that healthier men actually tend to marry later and to postpone remarriage. Relatively unhealthy men, by contrast, tend to pursue marriage more actively.

They marry earlier, are less ly to divorce and are more ly to remarry following a divorce or the death of a spouse. For these men, marriage can be an effective means of promoting physical health and increasing longevity.

Their behavior supports the view that there is an adverse selection into marriage on the basis of health.

At the same time, the study also found evidence for positive selection into marriage on the basis of factors other than health.

In their youthful years, some men have attributes (besides their general health status) that not only make them more ly to marry but also make them healthier individuals.

Such habits or preferences are established early in the life cycle, leading to a positive overall association between being in good health and being married. This correlation, however, is not a result of the influence of general health on marriageability or of the health benefits of marriage.

The relationship between marriage and longevity is more complex than had been generally believed. Clearly, the longer life of married men cannot be explained by pointing exclusively to either protection from ill health or selection into marriage on the basis of good health.

What the findings confirm for the first time is that the self-reported health status of men does affect marriage decisions—but not in ways that support the notion of positive selection.

Since good health discourages marriage, and poorer health encourages marriage, the connection between marriage and better health can be explained by individual habits and preferences that promote both health and marriage.

In addition, the evidence indicates that although marital status has an effect on mortality, the determining factors underlying this effect are not always clear. In the case of older divorced men, being outside of marriage leads to poorer health and also to shorter life.

Other unmarried men, however, have higher mortality rates despite the fact that their general health levels are no worse than those of married men.

Therefore, while the relatively good health of married men offers a partial explanation for their increased longevity, additional determining factors have yet to be found.



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