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‘Assortative Mating’ Feeds Income Inequality

Marriages between the boss and the secretary are increasingly becoming a ‘trend’ of the past. According to a working paper by the National bureau of Economic Research in the US, better educated people are more likely to marry other equally academic partners, while those with a lower level of formal schooling are more likely to choose a less-educated partner. As a result of this situation, income inequality has soared because education is strongly linked to income – the more educated you are, the more money you usually earn, a team of University of Pennsylvania economy experts suggest.

Universities as ‘Mating Factories’

Educational high-flyers tend to find their mates at university instead of the workplace - where colleagues may come from different social and academic background and at a different career level. Coupling with someone from the university environment implies the decision to spend the rest of your life with a similarly educated mate.

A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that almost 50% of married graduate men had married female graduates in 2005, compared with only a quarter in 1960. On the other hand, nearly 60% of women who had only received high school education  were married to men of the same education in 2005, compared to just 40% in 1960.

Social mobility experts explain that these changes result from the huge number of women attending university.  The emeritus fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford, John Goldthorpe, argues that “If you go back to the 1960s you would have a big sex difference - the nurse marrying the surgeon, the businessman marrying the secretary…Over the past 20 years women have caught up with men in the proportion going into higher education. They are going in their mating years and therefore universities are becoming big mating factories”.

Inequality in Household Incomes

From an economic perspective, the trend of ‘assortative mating’ is exacerbating income inequality, as successful and low-earning couples stay apart.

A US couple with postgraduate qualifications could earn 119% more than the average income in 2005, but a postgraduate woman married to a man who had not graduated from high school would earn 8% less than average.

More married women enter the labour force opt for marrying similarly educated men, a fact which sustains gains for better educated couples. Researchers revealed that when they randomly matched men and women by educational education level, income inequality in 2005 declined.

Stephen Machin, Economics professor at the University College London, stated that the study “suggests a polarisation of skills in households. It's been a driving factor behind inequality and most people would say that's not good”.

All in all, it is clear that income inequality is strongly prone to relevant marriage patterns such as assortative mating, which means that more couples getting married are educated to the same level.  In essence, the higher the education level is, the more adults’ household incomes rise.

In this video, Singapore’s Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew speaks in favour of ‘assortative mating’ claiming that graduates marrying non-graduates could see their offspring’s educational prospects decline. Do you share the same view? Please have your say...

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