Assorting mating and income inequality

Interesting write-up in The Economist. (No, I don’t read it, someone directed me to the article.)

And the policy implications of the impact of assortive mating on income inequality?

  • ban women from becoming educated?
  • enforce random marriages?

Actually, no policy implications (apart from setting the record straight on why observed income equality has changed in the way it has).

And, by the way, do we really care about the Gini coefficient in developed economies where those at the bottom receive government transfers and in-kind benefits?

IN “MAD MEN”, a series about the advertising industry in the 1960s, women are underpaid, sexually harassed and left with the kids while their husbands drunkenly philander. Sexual equality was a distant dream in those days. But when Don Draper, the show’s star, dumps the brainy consultant he has been dating and marries his secretary, he strikes a blow for equality of household income.

Nowadays, successful men are more likely to marry successful women. This is a good thing. It reflects the fact that there are more high-flying women. Male doctors in the 1960s married nurses because there were few female doctors. Now there are plenty. Yet assortative mating (the tendency of similar people to marry each other) aggravates inequality between households—two married lawyers are much richer than a single mother who stacks shelves. A new study* of hundreds of thousands of couples investigates the link.

But in reality the highly educated increasingly married each other. In 1960 25% of men with university degrees married women with degrees; in 2005, 48% did. As a result, the Gini rose from 0.34 in 1960 to 0.43 in 2005.

Assortative mating is hardly mysterious. People with similar education tend to work in similar places and often find each other attractive. On top of this, the economic incentive to marry your peers has increased. A woman with a graduate degree whose husband dropped out of high school in 1960 could still enjoy household income 40% above the national average; by 2005, such a couple would earn 8% below it. In 1960 a household composed of two people with graduate degrees earned 76% above the average; by 2005, they earned 119% more. Women have far more choices than before, and that is one reason why inequality will be hard to reverse.

*Marry Your Like: Assortative Mating And Income Inequality, by Jeremy Greenwood, Nezih Guner, Georgi Kocharkov and Cezar Santos, NBER Working Paper 19829

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37 Responses to Assorting mating and income inequality

  1. Token

    Nowadays, successful men are more likely to marry successful women. This is a good thing. It reflects the fact that there are more high-flying women.

    Sounds like someone has read Charles Murray’s Coming Apart but has chosen to spin in a way where they don’t have to acknowledge his work (so people can’t see the conclusions).

  2. And that is without taking genetics into account: intelligent people tend to produce intelligent children, intelligent children then perform well in society. Assortative mating produces a genetic spread, and quite quickly.

    Mind you, the figures I’ve seen suggest that assortative mating has been fairly consistent through recent times, so it might be a matter of picking end points.

  3. Mr Rusty

    Fascinating.

    I wonder how the feministas feel about the fact that “da inekwalidee” has increased thanks to wimminses libbywayshun? TLS will be spewing.

  4. H B Bear

    Sounds like someone has read Charles Murray’s Coming Apart …

    Just thinking the same thing myself Token. It seems the causes of many of these phenomena are clearly observable and then it is up to the “progressives” to muddy the waters to keep their polictical base solid. Free Obamaphone anyone?

  5. Walter Plinge

    Nowadays, successful men are more likely to marry successful women.

    (Jaw-dropping look of astonishment) You don’t say!

    Someone got paid a lot to write an article stating the bleedin’ obvious in 1,000 polysyllabic words instead 50 short ones.

    Male doctors in the 1960s married nurses because there were few female doctors.

    A dubious assumption. Doctors (and other professionals) have always tended to marry within their social class. In the 1960s a doctor would likely marry the daughter of a doctor, bishop, or general irrespective of education attainment. Nursing was (and perhaps still is) one of those jobs that have been an acceptable path for working class girls who wished for higher social status. I doubt doctors would have married down much.

  6. hammy

    Doctors were far more likely to have extramarital affairs with nurses rather than marry them. Walter Plinge is quite correct – the upper classes didn’t “marry down”. It’s bad enough that they have to treat bogans in their professions. Tainting isn’t it?

  7. JC

    That’s quite funny Kero. Your trolling is very good when you’re not trying too hard.

  8. David

    “Upper Class”? There is no class system in Oz and to illustrate my point this is the country where a female bogan can grow up to be Prime Minister. :-)

  9. Walter Plinge

    ” There is no class system in Oz…”

    True, certainly in the UK sense. Here we don’t call it ‘class’. We use a long word instead; putting a scholarly gloss on it to make it more acceptable: socio-economic status.

    I wouldn’t agree that Gillard was a bogan. She has sound middle-class/professional credentials. It suited her to affect a bogan accent to increase her carreer prospects within the union movement, communist groups, and Labor. Bob Hawke did the same thing with great success.

  10. Doctors were far more likely to have extramarital affairs with nurses rather than marry them.

    Poor Hammy. He remembers only too well the humiliation of having to wear the little uniforms.

  11. Doctors (and other professionals) have always tended to marry within their social class. In the 1960s a doctor would likely marry the daughter of a doctor, bishop, or general irrespective of education attainment.

    This is a very English perspective; I think you will find it wasn’t the case in Australia (daughters of bishops are a bit thin on the ground here, despite what you read in the Royal Commission reports … )

    And it depended entirely – as with most marriages that can be made freely – on what the doctor’s background was. Was he lower-middle-class made good? Then he’d be happy with a nurse who was also lower-middle-class made good. If he was a snooty chap from the North Shore, he’d naturally prefer a snooty bint from the North Shore.

    Nursing was (and perhaps still is) one of those jobs that have been an acceptable path for working class girls who wished for higher social status. I doubt doctors would have married down much.

    Well, until we have some data from somewhere, we can argue all we like about our memories of watching a handsome and boyish Richard Chamberlain on TV as Dr Kildare, bearing in mind that he was as queer as a two bob watch in real life.

  12. Squirrel

    Stunning stuff, as Walter and others have noted. That piece reminds me of the line, attributed to Einstein, GBS and Arthur Miller etc. “…what if the child had your brains and my looks?”

  13. Luke

    “successful men are more likely to marry successful women” – I like the subtle accusation there that this is because of men’s doing or choosing.

    Which gender is more likely to ask what someone’s partner does for a living? The reality is that women don’t like to marry down.

    As well as single mothers with deadbeat partners we are also seeing an increase in the number of ‘successful’ and divorced mothers still single because they can’t find a ‘suitable’ male partner. A typical minimum requirement being that the guy earn more than they do – a criteria that becomes all the more limiting depending on how much they earn.

    I know some professional and very attractive women who are still single because they are waiting for a wealthy guy. The older they get the harder they dig in because the more the guy has to already have. eg. good job, car, house, lifestyle, ability to keep these things while affording a stay at home wife

  14. As well as single mothers with deadbeat partners we are also seeing an increase in the number of ‘successful’ and divorced mothers still single because they can’t find a ‘suitable’ male partner. A typical minimum requirement being that the guy earn more than they do – a criteria that becomes all the more limiting depending on how much they earn.

    I know some professional and very attractive women who are still single because they are waiting for a wealthy guy. The older they get the harder they dig in because the more the guy has to already have. eg. good job, car, house, lifestyle, ability to keep these things while affording a stay at home wife

    OK, I admit it.

    I am in fact the only woman in Australia who is single simply because she has discovered that this works out the best for everyone concerned, including me.

    The City Seminarian recently hit upon some painful home truths about our increasing lack of ‘marriageability’ in the pampered West.

  15. ChrisPer

    A Martyr to the comments thread…

    Good on you Phillippa!

  16. Nowadays, successful men are more likely to marry successful women.

    Clearly that doesn’t work in reverse. After all, Frau Shoss married me.
    There is a very good reason why I get down on my knees and give thanks to God every night.

  17. Walter Plinge

    I know some professional and very attractive women who are still single because they are waiting for a wealthy guy. The older they get the harder they dig in because the more the guy has to already have. eg. good job, car, house, lifestyle, ability to keep these things while affording a stay at home wife.

    James Taranto covered this topic recently, quoting from a book or paper which caused a real stink in feminist circles. James’s conclusion was it caused an uproar because it was a little too close to the truth for comfort.

    The upshot of the paper was that intelligent, ambitious (and thus potentially wealthy) women who aspire for marriage and children (eventually) should marry while they are young — mid 20s. The pool of suitable males is still wide. IIRC this is the book:

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/0525951512

    Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr Good Enough

    Gottlieb, 37, made the decision to become a single parent after years of searching for Mr. Right. Four years later, when she still hadn’t found him, she decided to take a good look at her dating habits—and the dating habits of women around her—to see if the problem is not a dearth of good men but rather women’s expectations of them. Gottlieb finds that women want it all—and often aren’t willing to compromise on their list of traits their ideal mate must have. In their twenties, many women leave good relationships based on an elusive feeling that they could find something more with someone else, and they regret it down the road when their choices dwindle. It’s not that women aren’t willing to settle; it’s that many refuse to recognize that their vision of the perfect man doesn’t match reality.

  18. Jim Rose

    Blame Whitlam. He opened up the universities.

  19. Obsessed by money? Think that money and status are the most important things in life? Hey! Get a law degree and marry another person with a law degree!
    That pretty much sums it up, really. It just equates quality of life with earning power. Whacko.

  20. Infidel Tiger

    In the choice between the nurse and the female doctor, he goes for the one with the biggest tits right?

  21. Kaboom

    I.T., you will go to Hell for that!

  22. blogstrop

    Big tits trumping everything else is a myth. Stop it at once.

  23. blogstrop

    On that subject, I’m reminded of a novel called The House of War, by Catherine Gavin, being about Ataturk’s quest for power in Turkey after WW1. Well worth reading, and the shape of the woman featured is but a small side issue, but perhaps relevant in the context of variety being the spice of life.

  24. Jim Rose

    yes, the growing income gap between power couples and the rest does not fit into the usual social justice paragdimgm because what do you do? tax well-matched couples and subsidise bad matches

  25. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Individuals can marry in the class structure every which way depending on how things look at the time – but there are tendencies, and the tendency is for women to marry equal or up and for men to marry women younger than themselves. It’s amazing how ‘implicit’ so much of this is in the sorting process.

    HIA’s very upper-middle-class barrister brother in London spoke to me first on the telephone.
    She doesn’t sound very Australian, he told HIA, with a sense of relief. Nor did I sound ‘unacceptable’.
    I do a fairly good ‘county’ accent most of the time; learned it in England when I was eleven, from a headmistress who wanted to see this little working-class Australian girl get ahead. Sensible woman knew that accent mattered a lot in the UK. A pity I ended up back in dire circumstances in Western Sydney at twelve.

    And guess what? Accent matters in Australia too. I do ABC Educated Australian now, with hints of a past in the UK. ( With the rellies out West of Sydney, well, it gets broader, the idioms change; they still think I sound snobbish). A passable accent, an obvious education, plus learning all of the many new ‘codes’ of class are very important for a successful out-of-class marriage ‘up’, especially in Britain. I have a dear highly-educated friend in England whose only slight tendency to a glottal stop has reaped her some grief from the family of an early marriage possibility. She has now married down, happily, to someone sixteen years younger, who speaks like a navvy. They are both archaeologists. So what? The top echelon of the local village still don’t invite her in and she finds her friends elsewhere. In parts of London though, it’s reverse snobbery: hints of Cockney or you are on the outer, especially in leftie media arts areas.

    HIA overdoes the Irish at times in Australia, just for effect I suspect, especially with me. He can do a very good British when he has to. British Public School and University of Cambridge: he knows the ropes. I’ve learned them through two marriages, and believe me, they apply still in Australia in certain circles. Walter is right. Socio-economic status may be what it is called, but it is good old-fashioned class barriers when it comes to the crunch. Money helps, of course, as ever and always, as does crashing on and crashing through. And Australia is much more flexible than Britain in its judgements.

  26. Anne

    There is a very good reason why I get down on my knees and give thanks to God every night.

    While you’re down there…

  27. Infidel Tiger

    While you’re down there…

    Gold!

  28. Rococo Liberal

    What is it with the left and ‘equality?’

    They just seem to be born with this intellectual disability that can’t allow them to understand that equality of outcome in life is neither possible nor desirable.

  29. Token

    What is it with the left and ‘equality?’

    It is an word which they know means different things to different people so it is easy to use to convince people to agree to agreements which are against their actual interest. “Justice” is too often used in the same way.

  30. Rabz

    Great analysis, Lizzie. I’ve got what’s known as an “International English” accent, as do all my university educated friends.

    Confused the hell out of people when I was overseas.

  31. Rococo Liberal

    I’m the same Rabz.

    When I was abroad recently, i had Americans and Canadians completly confused as to my Nationality.

  32. .

    I ran into a Canuck on exchange here and she reckoned she couldn’t understand me.

    I assumed she was just stupid.

    The ridiculous accents I have put with in this country alone…she should have tried harder.

  33. Gab

    When in France, I was mistaken for a Pom. When in the US, I was mistaken for – wait for it – a Kiwi.

  34. dragnet

    When I was in Guyana the staff at the hotel were a bit ordinary toward me, not being able to identify my nationality. When I said I was an Australian they beamed and became friendly, with comments like “Ah Australia, my second-favourite cricket team” etc. It was strange for them that I look a bit like Shane Warne, I had to speak like him too!

  35. dragnet

    The earlier model Shane Warne I should add, not the Botox freak he is now.

  36. Rabz

    not the Botox freak he is now

    Hey, Shane Warne – the Thunderbirds called, they want their image back.

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