Changes in American marriage, 1970-1990: Forces of attraction, assortative mating and interracial marriage

Zhenchao Qian, University of Pennsylvania


This research uses a two-sex perspective to examine recent changes in American marriage. It focuses on propensities to marry according to age and educational attainment of potential partners. It also examines age, educational and racial assortative mating. Data from the 1970 and 1980 U.S. Censuses, and from the 1990 Current Population Survey, are employed. By relating actual marriage to the population at risk, this research makes it possible to distinguish between changes in the availability of eligible partners and changes in the force of attraction between men and women in age and education categories. Changes in availability conditions are not found to have had a substantial impact on changing marriage rates. The force of attraction, rather than availability, was the dominant influence on trends in marriage rates. The sharp declines in marriage rates between 1970 and 1980 were not highly differentiated by age or education for either men and women, but the smaller declines between 1980 and 1990 were highly concentrated among younger men and women. Including cohabiting unions in the definition of marriage reduces the magnitude of the declines. Age and education combinations that have greater forces of attraction to marriage also show greater forces of attraction to cohabitation. Chapter Five, which has a methodological focus, shows that changes in assortative mating are similar whether or not the population at risk is considered. Age homogamy remained unchanged but educational homogamy increased. Moreover, there have been more women marrying men more poorly educated than they are and more men marrying women better educated than they are. The study of interracial marriage in 1980 shows that interracial marriage with whites is highest for Hispanics, followed by Japanese, Chinese, blacks and then Koreans. In general, white men and women who married at older ages and who were less educated were more likely to marry minority races while minority men and women who were better educated were more likely to marry whites.

Subject Area

Demographics|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Qian, Zhenchao, "Changes in American marriage, 1970-1990: Forces of attraction, assortative mating and interracial marriage" (1994). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9503818.