Thursday, December 22, 2016

Assortative mating, class and education

This is interesting. From Educational Homogamy and Assortative Mating Have Not Increased by Rania Gihleb and Kevin Lang.

I have long been familiar with the assortative mating argument. This is the first time I have seen evidence against it.
Some economists have argued that assortative mating between men and women has increased over the last several decades, thereby contributing to increased family income inequality. Sociologists have argued that educational homogamy has increased. We clarify the relation between the two and, using both the Current Population Surveys and the decennial Censuses/American Community Survey, show that neither is correct. The former is based on the use of inappropriate statistical techniques. Both are sensitive to how educational categories are chosen. We also find no evidence that the correlation between spouses' potential earnings has changed dramatically.
Good to know that there is a counterargument to what is so widely believed.

I can see where the researchers argument might be true. For those of us who have graduated college, all our classmates have married college educated spouses so the assortative mating argument tends to make a lot of intuitive sense.

However, you don't have to recast the argument much to get a different take. College education is much like a class rite of passage. Once accomplished, you have arrived. Seen as a class rite of passage, assortative mating takes on a different color.

Its easy to believe that college educated people today might be more adherent to marrying other college grads than in the past. But if you ask a different question, the answer would seem different as well. Do you believe that people married outside of their class more in the past than today? I have no empirical evidence one way or the other but I certainly would initially jump to the conclusion that within-class marriage rates are pretty close today to what they have always been.

And if that is true, then the contemporary assortative mating argument is undermined. People aren't newly sorting by education, they are continuing to sort by class as they always have.

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