Money Culture

Marriage Plays a Part in Income Inequality

In the madcap 1960 movie, “Where the Boys Are,” a college student named Tuggle (played by Paula Prentiss) is forthright about why she’s going to Ft. Lauderdale for spring break: to find a husband.

Women have come a long way, and two out of three married women today choose to work, rather than go Tuggle’s presumed route and become a full-time housewife. Yet there’s a 21st century corollary to Tuggle’s experience. College is important in determining who people marry.

We tend to marry others who are like us, and education has become central to this. College graduates gravitate to other college graduates. People who complete their formal education at high school graduation tend to marry other high school grads. Further, this trend of marrying someone with a similar education is growing over time.

“People are increasingly marrying other individuals with the same level of education,” says Boston College economist Geoffrey Sanzenbacher. Sanzenbacher and other economists say the growing trend of college graduates pairing off with other graduates has increased income inequality.

The importance of college goes much deeper. Among graduates, the specific college one attends is more important in determining who one marries than one’s field of interest or personal attributes like SAT scores or a parent’s income.

For example, graduates of a specific college are very likely to marry someone who went to that same institution – even if they are in different fields, according to a new research study that connected the data in Norway’s centralized college admissions system with marriage data. Or consider two graduates of the same law school. They have a good chance of getting married – not because they are both lawyers but because they attended the same school.

Sanzenbacher explains how marriage patterns can increase inequality. A “power couple” with college degrees who are both working bring a lot more income to a marriage than a less-educated married couple in lower-paying jobs. Power couples account for half of the highest-income U.S. households, compared with just 14 percent in the 1970s, he said.

“Marriage itself is becoming more unequal,” he concluded.

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5 Responses to Marriage Plays a Part in Income Inequality

  1. Economist says:

    How about a follow-up paper looking at the impact of divorce – in my experience a powerful instrument of redistribution.

  2. David B says:

    his could just as easily be titled “further education and college” plays a big part in income inequality. I agree that dual incomes are a major factor but the comparison now to the 70s is obvious when most women were “home-makers” or non-income job holders.

  3. Brustowicz Paul says:

    In the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and new century, my dear wife’s income was essential to our financial stability. More so in the early years. We met at Long Island University in the 60’s and celebrated our 55th anniversary today. She did not graduate or complete her degree but her working career helped give us a good life. We are not a power couple but we are happy.

  4. Don Davies says:

    I have to agree that there is really a disparity in wages. I am earning a bit more than my wife even though we have the same jobs. It’s really just unfair. That’s why I’m the one saving up for my San Diego Retirement home plans for me and my wife. It’s just fair since I am earning more.

  5. Kuldeep Rawat says:

    I have to agree that there is really a disparity in wages.

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