Academic journal article Population

Long Term Trends in Marital Age Homogamy Patterns: Spain, 1922-2006

Academic journal article Population

Long Term Trends in Marital Age Homogamy Patterns: Spain, 1922-2006

Article excerpt

Compared with other dimensions of assortative mating (i.e. ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic status), age homogamy in western societies is so taken for granted that it is seldom studied. By age homogamy we refer to the degree of similarity/difference in age between spouses. In the developed world, married women are on average two to three years younger than their spouses, because women marry at younger ages than men. As previous research has shown, age differences between spouses vary by marriage order and age at marriage (Ní Brolcháin, 1992). Age differences between spouses are higher for second and later order marriages than for first order ones and, regardless of marriage order, absolute differences increase with age at marriage. In most developed countries, age at marriage went through two phases over the twentieth century. In the first phase, which basically corresponds to the first half of the century, age at marriage and permanent celibacy tended to decline as industrialization and urbanization increased. In the second phase, which began in the late 1960s, previous trends reversed, with an increase in delayed marriage and in celibacy (United Nations, 1990). Where age homogamy is concerned, evidence on time trends for some western countries does show a steady increase in age homogamy over the twentieth century (Bozon, 1991, 2006; Ni Bhrolcháin, 1992; van Poppel et al., 2001; Atkinsson and Glass, 1985; Vanderschelden, 2006). Recent findings from the Netherlands (van Poppel et al., 2001) and the United States (Qian, 1998) reveal, however, an increase in age heterogamy in the last years of the twentieth century that continued into the early twenty-first century.

Explanations for gender differences in age at marriage can be classified into two separate sets, placing emphasis either on the rational choice of individuals or on the demographic constraints of the marriage market, i.e. the age distributions of eligible men and women.

At the individual level, rational choice models of marriage timing have stressed the importance of the traits and qualities that an individual must possess to be a good candidate in the marriage market. Traits and qualities are basically determined by the way the gender division of labour in households is established. In the male breadwinner union model, women marry earlier than men because their biology, experiences and other investments in human capital are more specialized to the production of children and other commodities, requiring marriage or its equivalent (Becker, 1974, p. 77). In the dual-earner union model, time allocation to both market and household sectors is assumed to be gender symmetrical. Specialization does not occur, so investments in human capital are the same for both men and women. As a result, women tend to marry later (Oppenheimer, 1988). Women's increasing educational attainment and massive entrance into the labour force are the main driving forces towards greater gender symmetry in marriage timing. Irrespective of the model of union considered, men and women weigh and exchange each other's traits and characteristics to maximize their expected well-being through marriage and advance, delay or forego marriage depending on the prospects of finding a partner who meets expectations.

While economists place emphasis on the shadow prices that guide participants to maximize their expected well-being, demographers' main interests centre on the age-sex distribution of the marriage pool: the number of eligible men and women. The concept of "marriage squeeze" refers to absolute or relative imbalances in the total numbers of men and women at the prime ages for marriage (Akers, 1967; Schoen, 1981). Sex differences in mortality or in migration patterns can easily create disruptions in local marriage markets by decreasing or increasing the population of men or women of certain ages. Along with mortality and migration, major fluctuations in births can also affect the age-sex composition of the marriage market two decades later, as larger or smaller cohorts reach marriageable age, due to the near universal tendency of women to marry earlier than men (Akers, 1967; Cabré, 1993, 1994). …

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