Academic journal article Population

Partner Supply in Britain and the US: Estimates and Gender Contrasts

Academic journal article Population

Partner Supply in Britain and the US: Estimates and Gender Contrasts

Article excerpt

How many potential partners are available to men and women of varying ages and are there significant cross-national variations in availability? Although demographers and sociologists have a keen interest in the operation of marriage markets, we have relatively few answers to these questions. A classic paper of two decades ago commented that "surprisingly little effort has been expended on determining the relative supply of men and women in the 'marriage market'" (Goldman et al. 1984) and this observation remains true. The last decade or so has seen a vigorous expansion in research on local marriage markets and a wide variety of measures have been employed in such studies, most involving sex ratios of one kind or another (e.g. Lichter et al 1991, 1992; South and Lloyd 1992; Raley 1996; Lewis and Oppenheimer 2000; Blau et al. 2000). Extensive investigation has shown that, for black populations in US metropolitan areas, sex ratios specified in a variety of ways are closely correlated among themselves, and that some are moderately highly correlated with measures of marriage prevalence and family structure (Fossett and Kiecolt 1991). Comparable analyses of white populations seem not to exist. But locallevel studies are more analytical than descriptive in purpose, and the facts of partner supply tend to go unreported. In this paper we turn the focus back on partner supply itself, presenting estimates of partner availability by age and sex for Britain and the US in 1990-91. We examine sex differentials, provide validation of the estimates presented, and explore a curious finding regarding male marriage. We discuss also some implications of the results for gender relations across the life course.

Early studies of relative numbers addressed particularly the relationship of partner availability to marriage rates and used measures acknowledged to be fairly crude, based on sex ratios specified largely arbitrarily (Goldberg 1965; Akers 1967; Hirschman and Matras 1971; Muhsam 1974). The Availability Ratio (AR) devised by Goldman et al. (1984) was a decided advance on these approximate indicators, incorporating a wider range of acceptable age matches and making sophisticated allowance for competition. The female Availability Ratio was defined as the number of suitable men for a particular woman divided by the average number of suitable women available for that woman's suitable men, with suitability specified primarily in terms of age, but also with respect to education. A difficulty, however, is that the sum of availability ratios for each sex is not, in general, equal to the total number of unmarried potential partners in the population. This difficulty was resolved by Lampard's (1993) Iterated Availability Ratio (IAR) which respecifies the original Goldman et al. Availability Ratio in such a way that the IARs for each sex sum to the total number of potential partners of the opposite sex, clearly a desirable property. This is the indicator used in the present study, and details of the specification are given in the next section.

I. Estimating potential partner availability

1. Iterated A vailability Ratio

Ideally, a partner supply measure should be embedded in a well-grounded behavioural model of the marriage market that gives clarity to the availability concept and specifies its empirical form. In addition, the indicator would need to be well validated. Since such a model is not yet available, a definitive measure cannot yet be specified. One empirical difficulty is the fact that partner supply is, ultimately, an individual-level concept and can strictly be measured only via individual-level data. Not only is such information not available, it is not at all clear how the number of potential partners available to individuals would be defined and measured.

In the absence of a definitive, well-validated direct measure of partner supply, we use the indicator with the best theoretical rationale currently available, Lampard's (1993) refinement of the Goldman et al. …

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