It has long been common wisdom that men who marry will work harder, save more, and accumulate more wealth. This has been called the “marriage premium.” However recent research suggests that this picture is incomplete.
Married men do earn more, but often their wives proceed to take lower-paying jobs. Aggregate family income is much less likely to go up:
[Audrey] Light analyzed data collected from 12,686 men and women born between 1957 and 1964 and interviewed more or less annually between 1979 and 2000. By tracking changes in their marital status and living arrangements and matching those to changes in earnings, she was able to examine the effect of marriage and cohabitation on the overall financial status of a household, and not merely on men’s earnings.
When she did that and factored in family size, Light found that the bump up in men’s pay due to the marriage premium was easily matched by increased family spending and a drop in their wives’ earnings. The more modest financial advantage of cohabitation also disappeared. “Single men have the same total family income [per family member], regardless of whether they are single, cohabiting or married,” she wrote, adding that “marriage and cohabitation confer sizable — and identical — financial benefits on women while men break even upon entering either type of union.”