Gender Differences and the Timing of First Marriages

30 Pages Posted: 16 Jun 2008

See all articles by Javier Díaz Giménez

Javier Díaz Giménez

Charles III University of Madrid - Department of Economics

Eugenio Giolito

Universidad del CEMA; IZA Institute of Labor Economics


We study the steady state of an overlapping generations economy where singles search for spouses. In our model economy men and women live for many years and they differ in their fecundity, in their earnings, and in their survival probabilities. These three features are age-dependent and deterministic. Singles meet at random. They propose when the expected value of their current match exceeds that of remaining single. If both partners propose, the meeting ends up in a marriage. Marriages last until death does them apart, widows and widowers never remarry, and people make no other economic decisions whatsoever. In our model economy people marry because they value companionship, bearing children, and sharing their income with their spouses. The matching function depends on the single sex-ratios which are endogenous. Our model economy has only two free parameters: the search friction and the utility share of bearing children. We choose their values to match the median ages of first-time brides and grooms. We show that modeling the marriage decision in this simple way is sufficient to account for the age distributions of ever and never married men and women, for the probabilities of marrying a younger bride and a younger groom, and for the age distributions of first births observed in the United States in the year 2000. The previous literature on this topic claims that marriage is a waiting game in which women are choosier than men, and old and rich pretenders outbid the young and poor ones in their competition for fecund women. In this article we tell a different story. We show that their shorter biological clocks make women uniformly less choosy than men of the same age. This turns marriage into a rushing game in which women are willing to marry older men because delaying marriage is too costly for women. Our theory predicts that most of the gender age difference at first marriage will persist even if the gender wage-gap disappears. It also predicts that the advances in the reproductive technologies will play a large role in reducing the age difference at first marriage.

Keywords: marriage, search, sex ratio

JEL Classification: J12, D83

Suggested Citation

Díaz Giménez, Javier and Giolito, Eugenio P., Gender Differences and the Timing of First Marriages. IZA Discussion Paper No. 3539, Available at SSRN: or

Javier Díaz Giménez

Charles III University of Madrid - Department of Economics ( email )

Calle Madrid 126
Getafe, 28903
+34 91 624 9585 (Phone)
+34 91 624 9875 (Fax)

Eugenio P. Giolito (Contact Author)

Universidad del CEMA ( email )

Córdoba 374
Buenos Aires, 1044

IZA Institute of Labor Economics


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