Assortative mating

Last month the New York Times’ David Leonhardt published a fascinating article, listing 13 young (untenured) in his piece The Future of Economics Isn’t So Dismal… 

Of the 13 up-and-coming academic economists, six are married to each other.  For example, Chicago’s Emily Oster is married to fellow Chicago economist Jesse Shapiro.  Not only that, Dr Oster is the daughter of two economists, Yale’s Ray Fair and Sharon Oster.  Talk about keeping it in the family.  The other two couples were MIT’s Amy Finkelstein and Harvard’s Benjamin Olken, and Berkeley’s Ulrike Malmendier, and Stefano DellaVigna.

Wharton’s Justin Wolfers,
by the way, has a partner with a PhD in economics from Harvard, who
worked for two Federal Reserve banks and who is now an Assistant
Professor of Business and Public Policy at Wharton: Betsey Stevenson.  So that means over half (7 out of 13) of the rising US economic stars have an economist as partner.

Here is the link.


This is probably common knowledge around here, but Kenneth Arrow and Paul Samuelson are both uncles of Larry Summers.

@steve sailer,

you'll have to explain that one.

The huge increase in working women has increased the opportunities for nepotism because, if you come from a well connected family, you now have virtually double the number of powerful people you are related to. The term "nepotism" originated in Italy, where the nephews of Popes tended to do very well for themselves. But now, if you come from a high ranking family, you can have not only powerful uncles but powerful aunts as well, nearly doubling your chances of being related to somebody with pull. If you come from a family with no connections, however, well, two times zero is still zero, so you are no better off.

I doubt its much about nepotism. I would bet its much more the same phenomenon which ensures the persistance of army families, families of plumbers, small businessmen, restauranteurs, gymnasts, and just about every other profession. A healthy combination of nature, nurture and convenience.

My father and brother are economists, but I have yet to use any connection - it is very much an accident that I am ending up in the same field - I didn't plan it.


I don't see how economists getting together mean 'who-you-know matters relative to what-you-know'

If anything, the education they received enabled them to meet their partners.

How many economists are married to economists in general? Is this number bigger or smaller (in proportion to how many economists there are) than any other profession? Does anyone know?

I think these are questions that must be addressed first before we speculate about assortative mating.

Which professions marry each other the most? Why? And, if those people know this, do they go into these professions knowing that it is likely they will marry someone in that profession? I've heard of paralegals, nurses, and photographers cite a benefit as being able to pursue lawyers, doctors, and models respectively (though I have no data).

In China, athletes, acrobats, Peking opera singers are more likely to marry within their professions. I suspect the top performers in each highly skilled profession tend to suffer from lack of time and skill to interact with the outside world. Every now and then, a gorgeous ballerina spills over to the outside world at the expense of her own career, and subjects herself to the scrutiny of the strange world she enters. Keynes’ wife Lopokova was treated by the rest of the Bloomsbury as someone who knew nothing but ballet. Good thing nobody could accuse a young star economist for knowing nothing but economics.

Matt - what the person meant when they said that was not that epidemiologists don't see connections between poverty and AIDS, but rather, an epidemiologist likely wouldn't have seen that the reason why Africans did not adjust their behavior in response to rising AIDS rates (like what happened in the US) was because of their poverty. Already short lifespans combined with low wages meant the present discounted value of an even earlier death meant less. It was specifically that presently discounted part that an epidemiologist would've missed, plus epidemiologists usually take behavior as an exogenous and so wouldn't have noticed the puzzling fact that Africans were not shedding risk in response to AIDS prevalence in their community.

Paper ideas from pillow talk...

Perhaps being 100% focused on your field, a requirement for being one the fast-track in most fields, makes it much more likely that you'll end up marrying someone in your field.

The other obvious examples along these lines I can think of are Milton and Rose Friedman and Gary and Guity Becker (she's a historian, not an economist).

So here's a question: Will these couples produce another generation of little economic wunderkinder?

That would seem right--you've got good DNA mixed with an econ-heavy environment of shop-talk at the dinner table.

But whatever happened to rebelling against your parents?

Shouldn't these people breed poetry editors and tap dancers and American Idol contestants?

Or is the distribution bimodal?


Jesus. Is this really the state of economics today? More or less nobody addressing the fundamental questions of production, consumption and exchange. Everyone swimming around trying to make dilettante contributions to other fields, using statistical techniques that have been demonstrated to fail on economists' own problems. This is a field in crisis, without a role.

I suppose it means that economics is getting a bit more like physics - specifically it's getting like the more doomed and farcical bits of string theory.

Indeed dearieme, that is exactly what Simon Baron Cohen would predict. The expansion of the professions and higher education has lead to assortative mating and the way in which certain professions and fields lean towards systemising talents and attributes mean that these are reinforced in the next generation: some of whom might indeed be autistic.
Economics is definitely on for systemisers, too. We even did some research (well, reading blogs):

[plus epidemiologists usually take behavior as an exogenous ]

? no they don't. Particularly not in the field of reproductive health.

Speaking of Milton and Rose Friedman, their son, David, is an
economist who holds even more strongly libertarian views than
did/do his parents.

umm, lazy reporting?

thank you very much for this article

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