The decline in marriage in the United States over the past five decades is well documented. Young people marry at later ages than they used to, and many more people will never marry. This can worsen existing inequalities because more advantaged people (whites, those with higher education) are more likely to marry and gain the health and wealth benefits of marriage. Over a similar period of time, labor union membership has also declined dramatically, especially among American men. Might the decline in marriage be partially caused by the decline in union representation?
Daniel Schneider and Adam Reich decided to find out. In their article, they ask whether union membership is related to first marriage for a group of men and women who were ages 14 to 22 in 1979 and have been followed since then. They found that men in a job covered by a collective bargaining agreement were more likely to get married, but women’s odds of marriage did not differ by their labor union status. Both men and women with health insurance coverage were more likely to marry in this cohort (although that may change for future cohorts due to the Affordable Care Act).
What is it about union membership that makes men more likely to marry? Is it that union jobs tend to pay more and have better benefits now? Or is having a union job a signal of job stability and future income? Schneider and Reich argue that it is largely present job stability and benefits that make men in union jobs more likely to get married, rather than union membership as a signal of future benefits.
The decline in the availability of good jobs, especially for those without a college degree, over the past 50 years may have contributed to the decline in marriage. It has certainly contributed to increasing economic inequality. In the U.S., new union jobs may support families with two markers of stability: marriage and steady income.