Finance

Marriage Plays a Part in Income Inequality

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.

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here. This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

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