Income Inequality and Educational Assortative Mating in the United States: Accounting for Trends from 1940 to 2003

Robert D. Mare, University of California, Los Angeles
Christine R. Schwartz, University of California, Los Angeles

The association between husbands’ and wives’ educational attainments has increased markedly since 1960. Although educational assortative mating may cause household inequality, income inequality may itself affect educational assortative mating. Growing earnings inequality widens the economic gaps among education groups and may account for couples’ increasing tendency to marry along educational lines. We evaluate this argument with Census and CPS data on the education of couples and income distributions of men and women from 1940 to 2003. We also consider other trends that may affect assortative mating, including the relative earnings of men and women, immigration, and the timing of schooling and marriage. Trends in the economic returns to schooling and reduced gender inequality in earnings account for most of the change in educational assortative mating since the early-1970s. From 1940 to the early-1970s, assortative mating trends are mainly the result of changes in the timing of school leaving and marriage.

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Presented in Session 23: Union Formation