The marriages of power couples reinforce economic inequality

That is my latest Upshot column for the NYT, here is an excerpt:

Of all the causes behind growing income inequality, in the longer run this development may prove one of the most significant and also one of the hardest to counter.

For instance, the achievement gap between children from rich and poor families is higher today than it was 25 years ago, according to a recent study from the Pew Research Center. Furthermore, higher income and educational inequality increase the incentive to seek out a good marriage match, so the process may become self-reinforcing.

…The numbers show that assortative mating really matters. One study indicated that if the marriage patterns of 1960 were imported into 2005, the Gini coefficient for the American economy — the standard measure of income inequality — would fall to 0.34 from 0.43, a considerable drop, given that the scale runs from zero to one…

A study of Denmark by Gustaf Bruze…showed that about half of the expected financial gain of attending college derived not from better job prospects but from the chance to meet and marry a higher-earning spouse.

…a recent paper by Robert D. Mare, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, showed that assortative mating was relatively more common in America’s Gilded Age, fell and reached a much lower level in the 1950s, and afterward started and continued to rise.

The G.I. Bill may have helped lower assortative mating, because it gave opportunities for upward mobility to economic classes that had not enjoyed it. In general, the greater the number of men entering the middle class, the more socioeconomic mixing will occur.

In 1950 it was also the case that marriage ages were especially young, meaning that couples often paired off from high school and may have had less of a sense how to match to each other by expected income or education. And most women had fewer chances to earn very much, so few if any men were searching hard to find future law partners or doctors.

I would put it this way.  I frequently read the Sunday marriage pages of The New York Times, and I never feel that I am tearing myself away from social science research.

Do read the whole thing.


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