Does Debt Discourage Marriage Early in Adulthood?

Student Author(s)

William Harrison

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Sarah Estelle, Economics

Document Type


Event Date



As the costs of higher education in the United States increase, young adults are entering the workforce with increasing levels of debt. According to the Pew Research Center, college graduates in 2008 borrowed 50 percent more to obtain a bachelor’s degree than graduates in 1996. Over the same time, marriage rates among young adults have decreased, with one in five adults age 25 or older in 2012 reporting having never been married (Pew Research Center) compared to one in ten in 1960. This research aims to determine whether increasing indebtedness due to student-loans is a causal factor in the increasing delay in marital formation among young adults. A large literature establishes a variety of benefits conferred by marriage including health and financial benefits to those directly involved and socially desirable outcomes for children born with and reared by two parents. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 and a propensity score matching model, this research finds that debt does not have a negative relationship with marriage early in adulthood, but these findings are likely subject to positive omitted variable bias.

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