Journal Article

Trading youth for citizenship? The spousal age gap in cross-border marriages

Prior studies concerning patterns of intermarriage among immigrants in the United States have primarily focused on how factors such as race/ethnicity, educational attainment, and country of origin shape the choice of a spouse. Moreover, they have focused on intermarriage patterns among immigrants who are already in the US. Using the 2010–2014 American Community Survey (ACS), we focus on immigrants who were not US citizens at the time of their marriage and highlight patterns of status exchange, specifically, the exchange of youth for citizenship. We compare the age gap between spouses across four groups of respondents: 1) non-citizens married to a citizen before or upon arrival in the US; 2) non-citizens married to a citizen after arrival in the US; 3) non-citizens married to a non-citizen before or upon arrival in the US; and 4) non-citizens married to a non-citizen after arrival in the US. We document the fact that a large fraction of marriages between citizens and non-citizens occurred before or upon arrival in the US. We also provide evidence that immigrants, particularly women, who migrate to the US after marrying a US citizen tend to be partnered with much older spouses, signaling an exchange of youth for citizenship.

Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council. Kelly Stamper Balistreri is Assistant Professor of Sociology, Bowling Green State University, Ohio. Kara Joyner is Professor of Sociology, Bowling Green State University, Ohio. Grace Kao is Professor of Sociology, Education and Asian American Studies, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.