Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender Differences in Union Formation in Mexico: Evidence from Marital Search Models

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender Differences in Union Formation in Mexico: Evidence from Marital Search Models

Article excerpt

Although increasingly appreciated for their explanatory power in developed societies, marital search models have yet to be widely applied to developing nations. This article evaluates the applicability of marital search models to marriage timing in Mexico. The analysis compares separate models of union formation for men and women that include individual and marriage market predictors. Results show that union formation is closely linked to the uncertainties surrounding the transition to adulthood and the availability of marriageable partners. Improvements in women's economic position do not diminish the attractiveness of marriage, as female independence arguments would suggest. Instead, they are a central force behind the stability of marriage behavior in Mexico. A central transformation identified in the analysis is the reduction in sex differences in age at marriage as women expand their education and labor force participation.

Key Words: gender, marital search, marriage markets, Mexico, union formation.

Dramatic transformations in women's educational and occupational opportunities have sparked considerable interest as to their impact on families. One facet of this research, the effect of rising female human capital on union formation, has been the locus of substantial debate in recent years. Although marital search models are rising in prominence for their explanatory power in developed societies in North American and Europe (Blossfeld, 1995; Easterlin, 1978; England & Farkas, 1986; Oppenheimer, 1997; Pollak, 2000), they have yet to be widely applied to the developing world, particularly Latin America. This both limits the generalizability of the theory and constrains our understanding of union formation in the less developed context.

Moreover, given the overarching concern with fertility, most studies of marriage behavior in Latin America tend to concentrate on women (Garcia & Oliveira, 1994; Guzman, Singh, Rodriguez, & Pantelides, 1996; Juarez, Quilodran, & Zavala de Cosio, 1996; Ojeda de la Pena, 1989; Zavala de Cosio, 1992). This relative neglect of men is particularly problematic in societies with a relatively rigid gendered division of labor, where men can be considered the authority within families (Greene & Biddlecom, 2000; Guttmann, 1996). In addition, the concentration on women understates the importance of gender relations and the fact that many of the social transformations influencing marriage behavior affect the way men and women interact.

Accordingly, this article investigates the social and economic determinants of union formation in Mexico, a developing country that has experienced rapid socioeconomic change in recent decades. This article has three main objectives. The first is to evaluate the applicability of marital search theories of marriage timing in Mexico. To do so, we formulate a model of union formation that combines indicators of individual socioeconomic position and local marriage market characteristics. This is particularly important in Mexico because remarkable stability in marriage timing has been coterminous with rapidly expanding female education and labor force participation, directly contradicting expectations from female independence and trading and specialization models of marriage. The second main objective of the analysis is to incorporate both men and women into our account by estimating sex specific models of marriage timing and assessing gender differences in the effects of socioeconomic and marriage market characteristics on union formation in Mexico. The final objective is to investigate whether gender differences in age at marriage are reduced as female education and labor force participation rise, as marital search models predict.


A central perspective for understanding marriage timing under rapidly changing socioeconomic conditions is the female independence or trading and specialization model, as formulated by new home economics theories (Becker, 1974, 1981). …

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