Is the Male Marriage Premium Due to Selection? The Effect of Shotgun Weddings on the Return to Marriage

Donna Ginther and Madeline Zavodny
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
Working Paper 97-5a
October 1997
Revised October 1998

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In standard cross-sectional wage regressions, married men appear to earn 10 to 20 percent more than comparable never-married men. One proposed explanation for this male marriage premium is that men may be selected into marriage on the basis of characteristics valued by employers as well as by spouses or because they earn high wages. This paper examines the selection hypothesis using a "natural experiment" that may make marital status uncorrelated with earnings ability for some men. We compare the estimated marriage premium between white men whose first marriages are followed by a birth within seven months and other married white men in the United States. Married men with a premarital conception generally have a lower return to marriage than other married men. Our results suggest that a substantial portion of the marriage premium is due to selection.

JEL classification: J31, J12

Key words: shotgun marriages, male marriage premium

The authors thank McKinley Blackburn, Eleanor Brown, Chris Cornwell, and participants at the Western Economic Association and Southern Economic Association meetings for helpful comments. The views expressed here are the authors' and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve System. Any remaining errors are the authors' responsibility.

Please address questions regarding content to Madeline Zavodny, Research Department, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 104 Marietta Street, NW, Atlanta, Georgia 30303-2713, 404/498-8977, 404/498-8058 (fax),, or Donna Ginther, Department of Economics, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri 63130, 314/935-6607, 314/935-4156 (fax),