Scholars have suggested that low-income parents avoid marriage because they have not met the so-called economic bar to marriage. The economic bar is multidimensional, referring to a bundle of financial achievements that determine whether couples feel ready to wed. Using the Building Strong Families data set of low-income parents (n = 4,444), we operationalized this qualitative concept into a seven-item index and examined whether couples who met the economic bar by achieving the majority of the items were more likely to marry than couples who did not. Meeting the bar was associated with a two-thirds increase in marriage likelihood. The bar was not positively associated with cohabitation, suggesting that it applies specifically to marriage. When we examined different definitions of the bar based on whether the mother, father, or both parents contributed items, all variants were associated with marriage, even if the bar was based on the mother’s economic accomplishments alone. When mothers contributed to the economic bar, they reported significantly higher relationship quality. Our results reinforce the importance of the multidimensional economic bar for marriage entry, highlighting the role of maternal economic contributions in low-income relationships.

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