Arnold Kling  

Marriage and Inequality

Simply Wonderful... Where Does the Money Go?...

Stephanie Coontz writes,

In 2001, University of Texas psychologist David M. Buss and colleagues compared mate preferences based on national surveys taken for several decades beginning in 1939. Their research, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, found that in 1956, education and intelligence ranked 11th among the things men desired in a mate. The respondents were more attracted to someone who was a good cook and housekeeper, had a pleasing disposition, and was refined and neat. By 1967, education and intelligence had moved up only one place, to number 10, and still counted for less than being a good cook or displaying neatness and refinement. mate-preference surveys taken in 1985 and 1996, intelligence and education had moved up to number 5 on men's list of desirable qualities in a mate in both surveys, ahead of good looks. Meanwhile, the desire for a good cook and housekeeper had dropped to 14th place in both surveys, near the bottom of the 18-point scale. And in choosing a spouse, males with a college degree rate good looks much lower in importance than do high school graduates.

...Furthermore, college-educated couples have lower divorce rates than any other educational group. And in the last 30 years, while the marriages of less-educated women became less stable, the marriages of college-educated women became more stable.

If you ask me to predict economic inequality, my expectation is that it will rise. These trends in assortive mating and relative marital stability are the reason.

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CATEGORIES: Income Distribution

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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Buzzcut writes:

By any measure (even by, say, the number of comments here!) this issue totally flies under the radar.

Inequality is a huge issue for liberals, yet their only theory on why inequality is increasing is that Reagan and Bush II cut taxes on "the rich" (and Clinton cut capital gains taxes).

But anyone who read "The Bell Curve" knows a lot of other reasons that Democrats won't even consider, all related to IQ and associative mating (which this study simply confirms).

Christina writes:

I once had the occasion to work with a young black woman who would often regale me with the dramatic events surrounding the lives of her many siblings, all of which were: high-school dropouts, unmarried, and parents of children with multiple partners. Her contempt for her siblings' behavior was always apparent, so I was shocked when she told me her life plan: buy a house and have kids. Marriage never even entered her mind, despite the fact that her parents had a good, long-standing marriage.

Then there is the young white man I know who is about to marry the mother of his two children. Everyone who knows the couple thinks marriage is a terrible idea. Even the groom himself is reluctant. But he works as an apprentice mason and has no benefits, so he's marrying his girlfriend for the health insurance she gets through her clerical job.

In both cases marriage is seen as an abstract formality, with few, if any, benefits beyond those conferred by the state and employers. This view, propagated by Social Liberals, has infected much of the nation, including my middle-class peers, but has most damaged our poorest citizens.

C L writes:

I don't think that surveys are the best way to learn what males' mating preferences are. I would venture to guess that the respondents are much more likely to put socially acceptable mate-choosing criteria toward the top of the list. A better option would be to evaluate the mates that these men actually choose, as opposed to what they say is important.

Cyrus writes:

In my opinion, while this represents a mechanism by which inequality is propagated from one generation to another, it does not necessarily represent a trend of increasing inequality: in an age when a woman, regardless of her intelligence or education, would likely provide at most supplemental income to a household, her earnings potential was less important. But today, many women bring substantial potential income to the marriage market, and these things are correspondingly more valued.

But in days past, when advancement for a young man depended more heavily on knowing the right older men, a woman brought to the marriage market her family and social contacts, a very real proxy for her own earnings potential, if she had lived in an age when women were significant earners.

Matt writes:

C L, you're right, but I think intelligence probably has moved up the list a significant amount.

Politically incorrect question: have we traded class equality for gender equality? We used to have more equal households (married couples and similar incomes) but the men and women in them had different levels of equality, while now we have equality between the sexes and increasingly unequal households (married vs unmarried and income disparity).

Zach Phillips writes:

I think it's not surprising to see how education has risen through the ranks to become one of the most important aspects in the relationship world. As a college student now, Marriage is the absolute last thing on my mind. I think that anyone who is driven to become financially succesful in there life probably has their priorities focused on that when they are 20-22 years of age.

Also, By the time you are out of college and getting a job, you have the big hassle of education out of your life which means one less thing to worry in a marriage.

From my personal view, I'd find a woman who was intellegent enough to have a conversation and get a good job much more appealing in the long run than someone who could cook a good meal. Hell I'll cook if need be. A steady relation and good level of income is much more important in overall quality of life.

randy the first writes:

that phrase "assortative mating" has been in my mind ever since i read it here a couple of months back Arnold.

Ethan Eden writes:


Jason Malloy writes:


A 2003 analysis by Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution, found that a rising correlation of husband-and-wife earnings accounted for 13 percent of the considerable growth in economic inequality between 1979 and 1996.
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