Do Married Men Make the Best Employees?

The Marriage Premium. It’s a concept whereby married men earn more than their single counterparts. Have you heard of it?

Apparently, this phenomenon is still around, and it doesn’t apply to married women. Interesting topic, don’t you think?

To my surprise, I came across articles on the male marriage premium while doing a little research into workers who enjoy an employment relationship as opposed to those who are considered “independent.”

I was curious.

Hoping to pursue my belief that there are more male “employees” than female employees, and wanting to dig deeper into the nature of the jobs and roles that men are fulfilling in employment as opposed to women, I quickly found myself sidetracked. I had never expressly thought about the male marriage premium before, and I wanted to pursue the subject.

Are Married Men More Productive?

Expecting that this favored treatment for married men had gone the way of the clunky car phone (if not Father Knows Best), I was stunned to find far more recent conversations on the marriage premium, including this 2012 article, from the Library of Economics and Liberty, which states:

Married men make a lot more money than single men. In the NLSY, married men make 44% extra, even after controlling for education, experience, IQ, race, and number of children. How is this possible?

How is this possible, indeed!

“Competing” economic explanations are offered. They include:

… Ability bias. The causal effect of marriage on male income is smaller than it seems. Even after adjusting for all the previously listed control variables, men with higher income are simply more likely to be married…

… Human capital. Marriage causally increases male income by making men more productive workers… Maybe… men work more hours; … work harder per hour…  In a pure human capital story, marriage actually causes men to become 44% more productive.

… Signaling. Marriage causally increases male income by changing employers’ beliefs about worker productivity.


More Sources on the Marriage Premium

Do we really believe that marriage makes men 44% more productive, whatever the reason? Are these old (carryover) beliefs from 30, 40 or more years ago when women, if in the workforce at all, worked “supporting” or part-time jobs, still carrying the load of domestic duties on the home front?

The academic piece isn’t the only one I found on the subject. This 2011 CBS News report is equally startling:

Experts have for decades acknowledged that men who are married earn more on average than bachelors who do similar work.

The big, still puzzling question is why?

Theories about why employers pay married men more center – even in 2011 – on a spouse at home who frees a husband from domestic tasks that sap his productivity at work. Of course, the same might be said of women at work whose husbands run households. But the available evidence does not show that men capitalize on extra time.

Did you get that? There is no indication that married men are actually more productive, and the perception or myth that a married man is a more highly contributing employee is predicated on the assumption that everything at home is “taken care of.” And often it is — what some of us refer to as the (female) Second Shift.

Still, shouldn’t that assumption be coupled with yet another — that the marriage is a good one and home life is relatively calm? Yet don’t we know that life from the outside looking in doesn’t necessarily reveal the truth? For men and women both, marriage may bring out our “worst” selves rather than our better angels. That is, until we find ourselves in a marriage that suits.

21st Century Reality: Women Work, Too!

Given the number of women who are now working outside the home, and the juggle and expectations that more childcare and household chores should be shared by both spouses, dads are certainly impacted by the changing realities of marriage with children.

As to the question of whether or not married men make better employees (than single men or women in general), surely that requires definition of what comprises being a “good” employee, which is likely to be fairly subjective and possibly industry-specific.

In addition, we would need data on the specified dimensions.

Still, I can imagine a few basics that would reinforce the perception of being a good employee, as well as actual merit, and regardless of gender. Among them:

  • measurable results (on the job)
  • effective communication
  • on time at work, not leaving early, extra hours when requested
  • flexible on scheduling and access
  • no issues over travel, including on short notice
  • few or no personal / sick days
  • gets along well with others
  • culturally and politically correct per the organization’s standards / style

While my list is admittedly white collar-oriented, if you were the boss, wouldn’t these criteria seem desirable, certainly at first glance?

As for all of the above, can’t we imagine that whichever parent has primary responsibility for the kids, he or she is less likely to be as available to an employer?

I’m curious again about this “best employee” concept. Naturally, one’s role in an organization is a factor. Nonetheless, ideally, shouldn’t long-term physical and emotional health be on the list? Don’t these promote a superior work environment and lower organizational costs? Wouldn’t they require a happy home life, and thus something other than maximum accessibility by the employer? What about innovation? Doesn’t time away from the routine encourage precisely that?

Perhaps this another weekend research topic, waiting in the wings.

No Marriage Premium for Women

Regarding the marriage premium, the CBS News report couldn’t be more clear that no such premium applies to married women. The reasons are obvious, aren’t they? Isn’t it still assumed that women have hubbies and kids that are likely to distract them (while hubbies have wives, even if they work, to carry more of the load)?

Thus, there are no related theories about the female employee. On the contrary, I am convinced that the single woman is viewed as the more dependable and productive worker – income data shows women aged 20 – 24 earn the most on the male dollar; these women are more likely to be single and childless. Moreover, I strongly suspect that a woman’s parenting status rather than marital status is likely to make her automatically less desirable to an employer than the other way around, and for precisely the same reasons (assumptions) that the married man is considered such a good bet: the mother of his children carries the predominant load of domestic responsibility, and likely a lesser-paid job.

Incidentally, the same writer referenced above took on the marriage penalty for women, also in 2012, noting that married women earn less than single women:

… married women make 10% less, even after controlling for education, experience, IQ, race, and number of children.


Do we think that gap has narrowed in these past three years?

Changing Attitudes, Yes. Changing Pay, I’m Not So Sure.

We know that both attitudes and behaviors are changing and for the better – at least in some circles. Men are taking on more parenting and household tasks, though there is room for continued improvement in this arena, and the issues do not apply solely to those in their child-raising years.

As to the assumptions around the marriage premium for men — and those I use to describe a “good” employee — I am not saying these are desirable assumptions or characteristics for either sex.

Certainly, if the male marriage premium holds true today, in my opinion, it is a throwback to a different era, and grossly unfair to unmarried men. As for the marriage and motherhood penalty on women, I’m guessing you know precisely where I stand.