Assortive Mating And Inequality

Via Matthew Yglesias:

Among college-educated people, in particular, the tendency is not so much to marry within your community as to marry within your educational cohort. Every once in a while you do see a college graduate married to a high school dropout (my parents, for example), but it’s quite rare. Since incomes are normally measured on the household level for statistical purposes, it matters quite a bit to big-picture national trends. In particular, “assortative mating” of this kind is a major driver of household-level income inequality.

How big? Jeremy Greenwood, Nezih Guner, Georgi Kocharkov, and Cezar Santos report in a new paper that if in 2005 the matching of husbands and wives had been random, the Gini coefficient—the most common summary measure of income inequality—would have been 0.34 rather than its real-world 0.43, a difference of almost 25 percent.

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  • Assortative mating may also have an impact on intergenerational mobility, since it widens the gap in resources available in different households. Families with two college graduates will have more money to invest in their children and may be able to afford private K-12 schools or homes in top-notch school districts. They are also more likely to have jobs offering greater flexibility, allowing them to better balance work and family life. At the other end of the spectrum, less-educated couples or single parents are more likely to face insecure working conditions, lower pay, and limited access to high-quality schools.

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