Not All Marriages Are Created Equal
Jonathan V. Last
|Photo from RightSpeak|
The first came in a post from Richard Reeves and Joanna Venator (reacting to a Derek Thompson essay at the Atlantic) over at Brookings. The three researchers all look at marriage and social mobility. and make a pretty convincing case that the obvious is probably true: The decline in marriage—especially among the non-elites—has contributed to the decline in social mobility we’ve seen in recent years.
The rise in single mothers matters for income inequality. But it’s a concern for social mobility too. On this blog, we have highlighted the rising number of single mothers among twenty-somethings—and what it means for the future prospects and mobility of children. Children of married parents have better life outcomes, in terms of education, health, and income—in large part because they have more resources available to them.Thompson focuses briefly on what he calls the “marriage gap,” or what academics inelegantly call “assortative mating.” This signals the tendency of like to marry like: those who are college educated and high-earning marry each other; and those with less education and less income marry each other (if they marry at all).
Brookings has examined the role of assortative mating in the context of economic mobility and gender. One reason women stay in the income brackets of their parents is that they marry someone from a similar background: the earnings of a married woman’s husband bear as much resemblance to her parents’ income as her own earnings.
Marriage, then, becomes another mechanism through which advantage is protected and passed on. Affluent, committed parents tend to get married, stay married, and raise their children together. Indeed, this is arguably now the main social purpose of marriage. As women have advanced in the workplace, the rationale for marriage has become about child-rearing, not income-sharing.