Group assortation, marriage and income
August 23, 2007 11:01 PM   Subscribe

Marriage and group assortation -- is it really as bad as it seems?

I've recently read several articles on the trend for people to marry people of similar education and income. From what I have read, people are marrying the same people they've always married, but now it's more obvious because women have education and income. But is it as bad as it seems?

From reading The Two Income Trap by Elizabeth Warren, it would seem that the gains of two incomes have been eroded. Is buying power really changed by two incomes, now that workforce participation is more balanced? I would think the major problems are for single income families, especially those in the lower brackets. But haven't low income families always been marginalized?

Is group assortation so bad? (I'm willing to accept that it is. But I wondered if things are really so much worse or if people have some sort of fantasy that 1950s grocery store clerks were not so far from lawyers.)
posted by acoutu to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
With respect, after a couple of re-readings, I still have trouble understanding the question.
posted by londongeezer at 2:32 AM on August 24, 2007

I googled the word 'assortation'. This page is the number one result, and all the others are pdf files. It's also not on I guess it means 'the sorting of heterogeneous groups into homogeneous subgroups'?

I imagine the problem might be that it is a sign of the stratification of society. Perhaps it shows that moderately richer folks are less likely to be mixing socially with moderately poorer folks. A lawyer and a grocery clerk may have had a large income gap in 1920, but maybe they were more likely to be socially connected in that era because of stronger, more permanent communities. I don't know that to be true, but it seems plausible (it fits with my fuzzy picture of history).

So if it is a symptom of stronger class stratification, which entails reduced class mobility, then I'd say it's a bad thing. But I'm not really sure if that's what the main question is.
posted by bluejayk at 3:57 AM on August 24, 2007

it would seem that the gains of two incomes have been eroded

That's just the hedonic treadmill.

Is group assortation so bad?

Why is it bad at all? Shouldn't people marry who they want? Perhaps you think it's bad because it concentrates power in the hands of a few? You may be interested in this which talks about how the rich of the past have had greater reproductive success.
posted by DarkForest at 4:21 AM on August 24, 2007

I’m not sure if you’re referring to this as one of the recent articles on assortative marriage, but Statistics Canada recently published the following:

Changing role of education in the marriage market in Canada and the United States

Here's the Executive Summary and the full PDF of the report: The Changing Role of Education in the Marriage Market: Assortative Marriage in Canada and the United States Since the 1970s.

From the Executive Summary:

Educational homogamy — the tendency of men and women with the same level of education to be married to one another — has important implications for social stratification, family income inequality, and intergenerational mobility.

And then from the study:

The rise in educational homogamy, along with increased selection into marriage based on education, has been a potent force underlying rising inequality in earnings in both countries [Canada and the U.S.] between families at the low end of the income scale and those at the high end.

Lately, on the economic blogs there’s been a great deal of discussion on the what is causing rising income inequality, and it seems increasing returns to (university) education is one of the primary causes, along with the erosion of institutions that shifted some power to the working classes (i.e., unions, bankruptcy laws, progressive taxation).
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 5:06 AM on August 24, 2007

Having read The Two Income Trap, I came away with the impression that the author was calling for government help for the poor, poor middle class two income family. The idea seemed to be that having the extra income would force the family unit to commit to much of that income to fixed monthly payments on a more expensive house, cars, etc. No mention of the idea that two income families might choose to put some money in savings or cut expenses by not having two brand new cars as I recall -- it has been awhile since I read the book, and I thought it was terrible so I didn't keep it

That probably doesn't answer your question though. Perhaps you might clarify what exactly you are asking?
posted by yohko at 7:22 AM on August 24, 2007

While I believe that income disparity in the US is extremely high right now, I also know that many journalists and talking heads are in the midst of a huge backlash against feminism, and scare articles about how women going to college and becoming economically independent is a bad bad thing and will make them forever unmarriageable and will likely destroy society as we know it are depressingly common. Michael Noer's Don't Marry a Career Woman is probably the most egregious recent example, but the general idea is pretty much everywhere: This country is facing problems, and the obvious solution is to hold women back so the rest of us can continue to get ahead.

Which is to say: I'd make sure you have a very large salt shaker next to you as you read through some of the articles you're talking about, because the tendency to skew data, or draw weird conclusions from it, is rather high when dealing with gender issues.
posted by occhiblu at 7:55 AM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I shouldn't have used group assortation in the title. I put that in to help future Google searchers, because the term has shown up in articles I've been reading. The crux of what I'm getting at is "I've recently read several articles on the trend for people to marry people of similar education and income." Most of the articles make it out like this amplification of low income + low income vs high income + high income is very bad for society. But is this really worse than the 1950s low income vs high income? I can see that there were times in the 70s or 80s when men were marrying women who were secretaries or whatever and that this might have reduced the gain, but not all women were working, so those families were probably ahead of the rest. I don't see that marrying someone of the same means is any worse than in the 50s when most women didn't work for pay.
posted by acoutu at 8:25 AM on August 24, 2007

on the trend for people to marry people of similar education and income

By trend do they mean a recent trend, or one that is persistent through human history? I have the idea that this has pretty much always been the case. Everyone wants to make the best 'deal' in marriage as possible, and education/wealth is a big part of the equation (romantic ideals aside).
posted by DarkForest at 8:44 AM on August 24, 2007

this amplification of low income + low income vs high income + high income is very bad for society

I can't say whether or not income disparity is "good" for society (define: good), but it is a cause of unhappiness in people and society.

Found here:
New evidence backs this hypothesis. Using data from the National Opinion Research Center, Michael Hagerty of University of California at Davis, studied the relationship between happiness and relative wealth in one’s community. He found that the greater the income disparity within the community, the less people were satisfied with their lives.
posted by DarkForest at 9:04 AM on August 24, 2007

I agree. But these articles keep talking about how men used to marry women who had no education or income. So you had a guy making $25k as a grocery clerk and another guy earning $100k as a lawyer. If they married women who worked, both married a woman who made, say $25k. So you had one couple earning $50k and another earning $125k. But now the lawyer would probably marry another professional, so it's more likely that that couple's income is around $200k. However, I'm thinking that it was only for a short period of history that you had women in the paid workforce and that, even then, not all women were working outside the home. So this so-called disparity is not new. It was just that, in the 60s-80s, you had women working at low wages all-round and so there was less of a gap between the two. (Unless you were one of the families where no one was working.) The articles I've been reading -- from Stats Can and from the NYT Magazine -- seem to suggest that this increased income disparity is terrible for society. But I'm not convinced that anything has actually changed.
posted by acoutu at 9:05 AM on August 24, 2007

It seems like there are plenty of other reasons to explain the disparities you're talking about, at least in the US (these might also apply to Canada, I don't know enough about it to guess) -- tax policies that favor the wealthy, the ridiculous way that CEO salaries have been increasing in the last couple decades, the ridiculous way that other wages have not been rising, the continued instability of jobs and the continued cutting back of benefits like health insurance, the rising cost of health care coupled with a huge population that doesn't have health insurance, globalization leading to a huge loss of manufacturing and other middle-class jobs, rising housing costs -- that I can't imagine how anyone could decide that edumacated wimmins is really the main problem here.
posted by occhiblu at 9:18 AM on August 24, 2007

As middle class incomes emerged, first for men and only much more recently for women, and at the same time romantic love became a much bigger of a factor in marriages, there may well have been a period that favored more mixed income/education marriages. Now that women have better education/income possibilities, and everyone has more choice (travel, permissive society, etc), people may well be segregating themselves again. Sorry, I'm just talking off the top of my head now. But I do agree with the basic point that too much income disparity is probably a bad thing.
posted by DarkForest at 9:24 AM on August 24, 2007

that I can't imagine how anyone could decide that edumacated wimmins is really the main problem here.

Oh, is that the point of these articles? Sorry I missed that undertone. Definitely screw that. Education is for everyone.
posted by DarkForest at 9:30 AM on August 24, 2007

I don't know if "edumacated wimmins" is the trouble the articles are getting at. But there is definitely anger in the discussion threads on various newspaper sites -- mostly uneducated men complaining that they can't get money-grubbing educated women to look at them.

The articles seem to say that marrying like-to-like is contributing to income disparity. I just can't see how this is the cause of increased income disparity. It seems more likely that low-paying jobs pay less than they ever did and that high-paying jobs pay more than they did or something like that.
posted by acoutu at 9:43 AM on August 24, 2007

I don't know if "edumacated wimmins" is the trouble the articles are getting at.

But that's what I'm saying. Women are getting scapegoated for economic policy problems here, by declaring that women choosing high-paying jobs is the major problem causing our economic disparities.

The argument seems to be: Income disparity is bad. This bad thing is caused because women are getting high-paying jobs.

So what's the "Therefore"? The only logical conclusion becomes, "Therefore, women should not be pursuing high-paying jobs."

It sets up a scenario in which the obvious way to solve all the problems in this country would be to convince women not to get high-paying jobs and to instead stay home with their children. Coincidentally, this seems to be a rather large push of the conservative movement, and the men's rights movement, and the evo pscyh nuts, and various other movements who feel they're getting screwed over right now.

(Unless there's a major media force at work trying to convince men to stay home with their children at least part-time, and glorifying the men who do, and portraying them as perfect partners coming into the full realization of their masculine potential of which I am unaware.)

The reason the data and conclusions you're looking at seem to make no sense is that they're being used to push an agenda, not to actually describe a problem in a value-neutral way.
posted by occhiblu at 10:15 AM on August 24, 2007

Well, I don't know about the US, but Canada spends a lot of money to encourage women to pursue higher education and high-paying jobs. And Canada is also looking for ways to encourage those same families to have more children. So I'm not sure that my government has an agenda, in terms of viewing women as the root of economic disparity. However, perhaps there's an agenda south of the border and that's spilling over.
posted by acoutu at 3:00 PM on August 24, 2007

I remember reading something about this a while back. If memory serves, the theory goes something like...back in the day, when the educational level of a woman wasn't an issue in social circles, women from poor families could leverage their looks/charm/other assets to "marry up" thus helping her offspring to get a leg up the financial/social ladder. Now, it's much more likely for two people from priviledged families to marry, thus combining/concentrating the benefits of wealth and education. Thus wealthy dynasties get wealthier, and poor, uneducated women marry poor, uneducated men, thus continuing the legacy. Apologies for not being able to site a source.
posted by Rubythursday at 9:13 PM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, I don't know about the US, but Canada spends a lot of money to encourage women to pursue higher education and high-paying jobs.

Yeah, not so much down here. The major complaint I'm hearing now is that there are too many women going to college (the gender ratios are, for the first time, favoring women), getting too much attention in elementary schools (because their test scores are higher than boys'), and unsuited for high-pressure career (a la Larry Summers). The NY Times runs articles about how wonderful it is that Ivy League - educated women are leaving the workforce and staying home full-time, there's article after article about the "boy crisis" and how education from kindergarten to grad school has become too focused on girls and women, and more studies keep coming out about glass ceilings in pretty much all industries. And the government seems mostly concerned with forcing pregnancy and promoting marriage, not helping end discrimination.
posted by occhiblu at 8:35 AM on August 25, 2007

acoutu, what was the NYT magazine article you referred to? Do you have a link or a publication date? I'd like to see the NYTimes' take on this.
posted by DarkForest at 9:29 AM on August 25, 2007

Here's the article from the NYT magazine. I didn't realize it was so old -- I read it at the doctor's (which should have been a clue!).

RubyThursday, perhaps your point is what these articles are getting at. I hadn't thought about the looks and charm angle.
posted by acoutu at 5:06 PM on August 25, 2007

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