• human capital;
  • marital timing;
  • premarital relationships

Nonmarital romantic and sexual relationships occur concurrently with the human capital acquisition process and contribute to delaying or forgoing marriage. Event history analysis is used to model the marital hazard rate of 341 White women born between 1960 and 1963 in a Western metropolitan area. In addition to family background, adolescent characteristics, and employment and educational histories, the structure of the women's premarital liaisons is shown to play an important role in the timing of first marriage. The greater a woman's involvement in nonmarital romantic and sexual activity, the less likely she is to be married by age 27–30. Human capital characteristics and the dynamics of relationship histories operate independently to explain marital timing. This supports the theory that women substitute premarital liaisons for marriage early in the adult life course. However, there is no evidence that highly educated women, or those who are students, are more or less likely to do so than others.