An Economic Inquiry into How Religious Capital Influences Rates and Stability of Marriage

Brian Hollar

Advisor: Daniel E Houser, PhD, Department of Economics

Committee Members: Christopher Coyne, Helen Alvare

Truland Building, #400A
November 28, 2012, 10:15 AM to 07:45 AM


Marriage in the United States has been in sharp decline in recent decades.  In the case of weekly church attenders, however, there has been less marital decline and more marital stability than among non-church attenders.  While a large body of economics literature exists which discusses and tries to explain changes in marriage quantities, prices have played surprisingly little role in these analyses. One reason may be that reasonable metrics for the "price" of marriage have not previously been developed. This paper uses income differentials between single and married women as a proxy of their opportunity cost for getting married and bearing children. I hypothesize that: 1) the “price” married women receive for marriage is the an emergent phenomenon from the interaction of supply and demand in marriage markets; 2) this price is paid to compensate married mothers for their foregone employment opportunities; and 3) there will be a higher level of compensation among the devout due to a lack of substitutes to marriage (such as cohabitation).

The first chapter provides a survey of the literature related to gender-imbalanced marriage markets and begins to investigate the actual and theoretical implications of such gender imbalances.  Particular attention is paid to how gender-imbalance impacts religious groups differently from other populations.
In chapter two, I develop a model that supports these hypotheses. My framework can explain observed patterns of higher rates of marriage and lower rates of divorce among weekly church attenders relative to the general population.  Applied to the broader population, this may help explain why marriage rates have decreased and divorce rates increased as median female incomes have increased in recent decades.  It may also offer partial explanation for recent observed stagnation in male incomes in the United States.

The third chapter empirically investigates the predictions of my model and tests the assertion that church attendance influences a variety of marital outcomes as predicted in chapter two.  The data examines marital trends in the US relative to church attendance from 1972 to 2010 using data from the General Social Survey.