Student Loans May Make Women Less Likely to Marry

Student Loans Marriage

Sure, student loan debt can affect your financial future, but what about your romantic relationships? New research indicates that education loan debt, which looms large for many Americans, can actually influence an individual’s likeliness to get married or move in with a romantic partner.

These days, Americans are getting married later in life than they did in previous generations. Between 1990 and 2010, the median age for first marriage has risen from 23.9 to 26.1 for women and from 26.1 to 27.5 for men. So why are Americans delaying marriage?

In “Debt, Cohabitation and Marital Timing in Young Adulthood,” Fenaba Addo, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, studies 6,700 subjects born in the early 1980s to find out whether student loan burdens have anything to do with the rising median marriage age for Americans. Addo follows subjects from early adulthood through their late 20s to track how student debt affects their likeliness to either marry or move in with a romantic partner.

While previous research shows that postsecondary education makes both men and women more likely to get married, Addo’s study suggests that the amount of debt held by an individual can actually serve as a signal of financial readiness among young adults. In other words, for young adults, a partner’s debt load can indicate whether or not they are “ready” for marriage.

But that warning flag seems to have a different effect for males versus females. According to the study, women with outstanding student loans are less likely to marry than their female counterparts who graduated debt-free. In fact, the likeliness of marrying drops 4.9% for each 1% increase in a woman’s dollar value of student loan debt. One thing that is not clear in the study is whether this trend reflects a conscious decision by women to delay marriage until careers and independence are established, or if that debt actually makes them less attractive as a potential spouse.

Meanwhile, men do not appear to pay this so-called marriage penalty for education loan debt – their likeliness to get married remains the same regardless of outstanding student loan balance.

When it comes to cohabitation, the presence of student loan debt actually seems to be an encouraging factor. According to the study, having outstanding education loans makes both men and women more likely to live with a significant other before marriage, likely as a way to cut down on housing costs.

What do you think? Are these marriage and cohabitation trends the result of lifestyle or economic changes – or maybe a little bit of both?


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