Does Marriage Affect Earning Potential?

Using DASIL’s United States Income Data by Marital Status, Race, and Sex visualization, one can see how the effect of marriage on a person’s earnings is multifaceted in nature: it depends on who we focus on and other factors at play. However, there are general trends that do prevail.

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Married people overall have higher earnings, although the difference between divorced people is smaller than that of single people. Married people with a spouse present earned over $33 annually, while single people earned on average well over $10,000 less than married people with a spouse present. While it may appear that being single correlates to lower earnings, inter-related variables may explain some of the earning discrepancies observed.

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One important variable to consider is the effect of age. As we discuss in another blogpost, workers ages 15-24 earn less than those of other age brackets. Studies suggest that those belonging to the 15-24 age bracket are less likely to be married, so some of the earning trends shown may not be strictly due to marriage. In addition, as illustrated in the aforementioned blogpost, 25-34 year-olds and 65+ year-olds make about the same and the next least age demographic (about $25000 more in 2013 dollars), and 35-64 make about $20,000 more on average. The 35-64 year-olds are more likely to be established in their careers, earning their highest-paying years within this age bracket. So, some earnings trends may be attributed to the pace of a career’s trajectory.

Breaking down by gender, the general trend persists: married men make a lot more than divorced and single men of all races, $44k, $33K, and $20k respectively. Married women have been making more than single men in recent years, averaging about $2K more in 2006 and persisting into 2010. While single women made more than married women in the 80s, the trend has reversed in recent years.

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Breaking down by race, both Asian single men and women make more than any other singles demographically, at both averaging about $21K in 2010. Hispanic single women make the least of all demographics of men and women, at $15.1K, although Black single men are a close second. Earnings of Black single men peaked in 1998, only separated from white men by about a $200 difference. Studies attribute this peak to the economic boom of the 1990s and the transition of Black men into higher-skilled service-industry jobs.

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Married Hispanic women still make less in comparison to all other married women, at $19.1K, but still substantially more than if they are single. Black females top the earnings compared to women of other races, at $26.6K, with the trend moving more or less in the same way as Asian married women.

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Visualizing Marriage and Social Inequality

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s a good time to take a look at data on marriage in the United States. It’s been a hot topic lately not just among demographers and sociologists, but also among economists and others who are worried about economic inequality. Although it’s now old news that marriage rates in the United States are declining, with people waiting until later to marry and an increasing number not marrying at all, the class differences that have appeared in marriage rates have not been as widely discussed. DASIL has created two visualizations that let you explore aspects of these changes from the 1970s to the present.

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Less-educated Americans are now less likely to be married than more-educated Americans. The visualization above shows marital status by education and gender for Americans 1976 to present, based on data from the General Social Survey.

Americans who are not married tend to have lower incomes than those who are.  This visualization shows the median income of Americans age 18 and over by marital status, race, and gender, 1974 to present, based on data from the Current Population Survey.


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