Do moving and making big decisions tend to happen together?

We use exogenously determined, long-distance relocations of U.S. Army soldiers to investigate the impact of moving on marriage. We find that marriage rates increase sharply around the time of a move in an event study analysis. Reduced form exposure analysis reveals that an additional move over a five year period increases the likelihood of marriage by 14 percent. Moves increase childbearing by a similar magnitude, suggesting that marriages induced by a move are formed with long-term intentions. These findings are consistent with a model where the marriage decision is costly and relocation lowers the costs to making this decision. Our results have implications for understanding how people make major life decisions such as marriage, as well as the cost of migration.

That is from a new paper by Susan Payne Carter and Abigail Wozniak.  It’s as if the move jolts you out of complacency and activates your long-term planning modules.  Here are some bits from the paper, as assembled by an MR reader:

– …marriage rates rise sharply shortly before and in the first two months after a move.
– Additional moves encourage marriage, raising the likelihood of marriage and of having children present as dependents.
– The likelihood of marrying prior to five years of Army service rises by 8 percentage points with an additional domestic move, representing an increase of 14 percent from the mean marriage rate.
– We first considered a model in which relocation likely requires investment in thinking about long-term plans that may simultaneously lower the cost of considering other types of long-term commitments, like marriage.
– This suggests that the decision to marry may be affected by other events requiring long-term planning. This in turn implies that a disruptive event, like a relocation, may actually strengthen family ties rather than strain them.

For the pointers I thank two MR readers.


Seems with experience. For some weeks after yo move, you are less distracted by friends and family. There's no other thing to do besides long term thinking.

PS married 11 months after moving to another country. I missed her too much and wondered about the long term.

'We find that marriage rates increase sharply around the time of a move in an event study analysis.'

So, what were the grounds for those 'long-distance relocations of U.S. Army soldiers'? Because if a soldier was being stationed in an area where combat/terrorist activities would not be unreasonable to expect, marriage in this case would be useful for ensuring survivor benefits in the (generally unlikely) event of the soldier dying.

'Reduced form exposure analysis reveals that an additional move over a five year period increases the likelihood of marriage by 14 percent.'

This seems at least somewhat unlikely, in the sense that tours of duty are considerably less than 5 years, and that the Army generally does not have troops stay in one place for more than one or two tours of duty. Obviously, my knowledge in this area is no longer very up to date, as the American military has completely left this region, and has basically pulled out of Germany entirely (with a couple of notable exceptions directly related to American interests, such as Landstuhl).

'Moves increase childbearing by a similar magnitude, suggesting that marriages induced by a move are formed with long-term intentions.'

A cynical researcher might just want to perform another 'event study analysis' on that particular data set to get a bit more insight concerning cause and effect.

'It’s as if the move jolts you out of complacency and activates your long-term planning modules.'

Or being in the Army is not a typical experience shared by most people, as long term planning is something that a military career tends to cause problems with. Just ask someone who enlisted in the Army in 2000 (which their study includes, though not those who enlisted after 2001). The dismissal of this point seems glib, to be honest - 'This strategy allows us to credibly identify the causal impact of moves on family formation for the population in our data.' Going to Iraq for combat operations in 2002 is not the same as being stationed in South Korea in 2007.

Though Dr. Carter seems to be a DOD civilian at USMA, neither she nor Dr. Wozniak seem to have ever served in the Army, which just might explain why the section of the introduction that starts 'Specifically, we use data on U.S. Army households to examine ...' reads as if they are attempting to construct the model they want, without having any experience of what they are modelling.

Of course, they are economists.

(And maybe somebody a bit more up to date can comment on this -'These include distance from home region,' because there are people I know who chose to enlist in a state other than their home state, as you become a citizen of the state you enlist in, which can have various benefits over a career.)

Other people are welcome to continue looking at how this paper was constructed - it does not seem to reflect the Army very well, to be honest, while attempting to present the data as useful for making conclusions. Though in all fairness, maybe they will be refining it later, by looking at patterns with a finer filter, one that can distinguish between moving from Ft Hood to Ft Bragg, and moving from Ft Bragg to Afghanistan. The impact when using such a filter is unlikely to be surprising, but who knows?

Soldiers were not being “sent to Iraq for combat operations in 2002.”

This is about PCS, not deployments to theater.

This is classic 22 year old e-4 marries a stripper when he gets PCS orders, which almost immediately results in divorce.

To think someone would write a paper about it....

Well, that comment was swallowed it appears. Suffice it to say, after October 2002, any soldier receiving orders to deploy to Iraq was expecting combat operations.

It takes time to transfer the men and supplies - which was detailed in this text (possibly the global security org is filterd?) - ' On 11 September 2001 the attacks on American soil brought forth a true test of the Army's readied stance. With each political outcome, steps to move equipment into theater were taken by the APS program. On 29 Jan 2002 the State of the Union labeled Iraq part of the "axis of evil" group. At this point APS planners were sent to Southwest Asia (SWA) and APS Qatar started to ship a brigade set and division base to Kuwait. CEG-Europe also began realigning stocks to theater.

In the summer of 2002, MSC began off-loading some of prepositioning ships in Kuwait for Army exercises that took place through December 2002. In July 2002 preposition ship USNS Watkins was downloaded, the Qatar BDE was moved to Kuwait, and Exercise Vigilant Hammer began. Much of the equipment MSC off-loaded was retained in theater against possible future use. The download of USNS Watkins was intended to be a clear signal to Saddam Hussein of American seriousness. In retrospect, increasing the stockpiles was a clear signal of the approaching conflict. Operation In October 2002, the Coast Guard received a request for forces from U.S. Central Command for a variety of Coast Guard forces to support possible military action against Iraq. President Bush signed a congressional resolution allowing the use of military force against Iraq and on 16 October 2002 APS-3 downloaded the USNS Watson. Sealift began in earnest in November 2002 and continued at a surge level through the initial days of the war.

In January 2003, MSC began the build-up for what would become Operation Iraqi Freedom. In January 2003 momentum was really gaining and APS-3 downloaded several ships of equipment into theater. In late March 2003, MSC reached a peak of 167 ships in the "Steel Bridge of Democracy", carrying "the torch of freedom to the Iraqi people" in the words of RADM D.L. Brewer III, Commander, Military Sealift Command.'

(Things do seem to be glitching strangely for the last few hours.)

So we agree?

No soldiers had deployment orders to Iraq in 2002.

Regardless, the paper is about PCS.

'No soldiers had deployment orders to Iraq in 2002. '

We disagree, but then, that is based on things like this - 'Dec. 21, 2002 - President Bush approves the deployment of U.S. troops to the Gulf region. By March an estimated 200,000 troops will be stationed there. British and Australian troops will join them over the coming months.'

But if three months is critical to being accurate concerning a war already full of provable falsehoods, well, OK.

Ah, you may be right if you mean technically 'Iraq.' We invaded Iraq in March 2003 - the soldiers sent to invade Iraq were deployed to countries like Kuwait, and they knew that their being based in Kuwait was to carry out combat operations regarding the invasion of Iraq.

I can see that this might be a better formulation - 'Starting in later 2002, American soldiers were sent in increasing numbers to staging areas outside of Iraq's borders in preparation for combat operations accompanying the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.'

Someone being sent to a base in Kuwait to prepare prepositioned equipment (see the MSC info) was fully aware that the reason for being stationed in Kuwait was the impending invasion of Iraq, which was unequivocally going to include major combat operations.

A deployment is not a relocation. That term would not be used. Deploying to a combat zone is independent of the condition used in this study. Deployments may also be connected to marriage, but that isn’t studied in this paper.

'A deployment is not a relocation.'

Fair enough - to be honest, I'm most familiar with the Navy and the idea of a home port for a ship. Obviously, the Navy has a major interest in having its ships available at sea, not at anchor, and is quite used to sending ships where necessary without distinguishing between stationing and deployment.

However, considering how the Army extended tours of duty in theater for several years after the Iraq War, this may mean the data requires a bit more attention to look at such details, such as between 2003-2006, where one can fairly assume that relocation was at least somewhat disrupted in terms of earlier or later periods.

Deployments had little impact on the PCS cycle.

Which is what the paper is about.

There are some weird glitches going on it appears- possibly due to server problems/more 'updating'?

I married my wife when my company wanted to move me overseas. But that was an entirely practical decision, if I hadn't been married they would not have paid for her to travel with me and we wouldn't have had such good benefits. We were quite happy cohabiting before this move, it wasn't that the move changed our minds about marriage but the benefits were too good to ignore. I don't think this really qualifies as complacency being challenged, more a rational response to changing circumstances. I am sure that a lot of the soldiers in this analysis had the same motivations as me.

Female soldiers often tend to marry male soldiers. I imagine the military tends to treat married couples better than unmarried couples on the grounds that the married are serious.

I have multiple cousins in multiple branches of the military, and they all have told me the same thing. The US military provides a lot of support to married couples but no support to non-married couples. If one member of the couple gets redeployed and the relationship is somewhat serious, the incentives the military offers to married couples pushes some people to get married earlier than they otherwise would have.

Don't most people move at about the time they would marry anyway. Thus, one graduates from college, grad school, or professional school, moves to another place for a job, settles into the new home by making friends, finds a mate, and marries. Did the move "cause" the marriage? On the other hand, maybe the move presented an opportunity for a mate not otherwise available because of one's reputation from whence he came. Take Brett Kavenaugh. Please. Would any self-respecting woman who knew him in high school or college marry him? He had to move and change his identity to find a mate. In his case, his move "caused" him to marry. But beware. I recall that great line toward the end of The Body (made into the film titled Stand By Me): "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve." They knew you far better than those you meet and deceive as an adult.

"Take Brett Kavenaugh. Please. Would any self-respecting woman who knew him in high school or college marry him? "

Where do you get your info? This is a bizarre statement even for you.

He had 65 women who knew him during this period sign a statement that he was a great guy. This guy is the poster boy for the Boy Scouts.

In what way does this advance the “science” of economics?

I agree. Not to mention that the conclusion is very obvious. I truly don't understand all the time and money spent on these superfluous questions.

I'd bet breakup rates are higher around moves also.

Quite likely - but that could be seen as an indication that such moves also activate short-term planning modules.

So I would think. In terms of the long-term planning I would suggest we need to see a longer term study of those marrying in association with a move and the persistence/durability of that marriage.

The move triggering a marriage could be driving by short-term thinking/crisis reaction as well as any well thought out planning.

Not sure why people want to suggest any long-term thinking here. Particularly when the study is based on military moves where the mover's interest have little to do with the personal life of the movee.

Ultimately the thinking seems to be a claim that big changes result in big changes, which if tend to find as rather boring.

Don't over-extrapolate this. It's a sh!t or get off the pot situation. A big move strongly encourages you to commit one way or the other in your relationship. There may also be employment benefits involved as well. You don't need a complicated rational actor model to explain this kind of behavior.

That's not an explanation, it's a redefinition. Why is it a 'shit or get off the pot situation' and why does it make any difference? Why isn't it simply ignored the way every previous day was ignored? Every day is a use-it-or-lose-it day just as much as the pre-move days are. If your answer is that 'it makes people think about it and make a decision', you aren't disagreeing with the authors or OP.

I shouldn't comment cuz I just don't care, but seems to me "correlation isn't causation" is appropriate here. It also seems to me that "underlying factors" are what 'push' both. But of course there must also be the converse: that moves 'push' separation (of married, living together, long term hook-ups, and obviously short term). Seems to me (I don't care) that the military is particularly poor because you can't (generally) pick your hometown at which to station. That is: the people have already been mostly removed from their 'family & friends' support network. So, this is unlikely to generalize. Still don't care.

Once when I was distraught about the end of a romantic relationship a friend told me that you only have two choices. End the relationship or marry. Then ask which was the better path.

Long-distance relationships don't work. The choice is either marry at the time of move or end relationship. The question should be are these relationships more lasting. i.e. does the pressure to make a decision lead to better decision making?

this is black-and-white thinking. People, relationships, humans, etc don't always fit neatly into one box or another, especially in our modern times. This isn't the case in the military, but wouldnt it be easier to navigate relationships if they were as black-and-white as the military?? And don't always listen to your friends after a break-up: i did too and made a mistake.

Antifragility. Military service pushes your envelope in many positive ways.

I've found that any "fresh start" can be motivating. I've moved a number of times and it's always reinvigorating to some extent, but so is something as basic as rearranging my furniture. I remember a similar feeling on the first day of school each year - new class, new teacher, new sense of optimism. The feeling fades pretty quickly (which makes marriage during this time a questionable decision!), but there's definitely something about new environments that has always filled me with purpose.

This could be true but my understanding is that married military personnel get better benefits so maybe that is driving things more than the move itself.

The reason seems obvious enough to me. Moving is costly and risky in terms of career and social life. If you break up, you run the risk of losing your social support network or having to make a costly move back home. You're making a big sacrifice to be together, so you ask for something in return - a formal commitment, which reduces the risk of a future breakup.

Another study on what is common knowledge. Perhaps they put some numbers on it.

First big transfer, you've been dating/living together, 5-yrs in you are looking toward career, it's time to marry or move on. Once the PCS happens, the relationship is likely to fail, even if the non-member follows. If both are members, then married gets some coordination between PCS locations.

Surely moving hurts your outside options?

Given that moving is a big decision, then yes. They tend to happen together.

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