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Spousal Alternatives and Marital Dissolution

Scott J. South and Kim M. Lloyd
American Sociological Review
Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1995), pp. 21-35
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2096343
Page Count: 15
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Spousal Alternatives and Marital Dissolution
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Abstract

Using three data sources we explore the effects of the quantity and quality of potential new marital partners available in local marriage markets on the risk of marital dissolution. Data from the National Survey of Families and Households demonstrate that, among recently-divorced men and women, a substantial percentage had been romantically involved with someone other than their spouse prior to divorcing. Merging microlevel data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth with aggregated Public Use Microdata from the 1980 U.S. Census, we examine the impact of marriage market characteristics and other contextual variables on the risk of marital dissolution, net of individual-level predictors. Proportional hazards models reveal that, among non-Hispanic Whites, the risk of dissolution is highest where either wives or husbands encounter an abundance of spousal alternatives. Increased labor force participation among unmarried women and high geographic mobility rates in the local area also increase marital instability. Our results suggest that many persons remain open to alternative relationships even while married, and that the supply of spousal alternatives in the local marriage market significantly increases the risk of marital dissolution.

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