This chapter critically examines the hypothesis that women's rising employment levels have increased their economic independence and hence have greatly reduced the desirability of marriage. Little firm empirical support for this hypothesis is found. The apparent congruence in time-series data of women's rising employment with declining marriage rates and increasing marital instability is partly a result of using the historically atypical early postwar behavior of the baby boom era as the benchmark for comparisons and partly due to confounding trends in delayed marriage with those of nonmarriage. Support for the hypothesis in multivariate analyses is found only in cross-sectional aggregate-level studies, which are poor tests of an individual-level behavioral hypothesis and which also present difficulty in establishing the appropriate causal direction. Individual-level analyses of marriage formation using longitudinal data and hazard modeling uniformly fail to support the hypothesis, while analyses of marital dissolution yield mixed results. Theoretically, the hypothesis also has severe limitations. The frequent tendency to equate income equality between spouses with women's economic independence and a lowered gain to marriage fails to distinguish between situations where high gains to marriage may be the result of income equality from situations where the result is a very low gain to marriage. Focusing on income ratios alone also tends to distract attention from the underlying causes of these ratios and their structural determinants. Finally, the independence hypothesis is based on a model of marriage that views the gain to marriage as a result of gender-role specialization and exchange. Historical evidence on the family indicates that this is a high risk and inflexible family strategy for independent nuclear families and one that is in strong contrast to contemporary family patterns.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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