Home > Uncategorized > Marriage Patterns Exacerbate Inequality. The Solution? Higher Taxes to Fund Post-Secondary Schools

Marriage Patterns Exacerbate Inequality. The Solution? Higher Taxes to Fund Post-Secondary Schools

March 9, 2016

The Upshot in February 28 NYTimes featured an article by Claire Cain Miller and Quoctrung Bui that describes one of the underlying factors to inequality that defies regulation. Titled “Marriage Equality Grows, and So Does Class Divide“, the article describes the phenomenon of “assortative mating” and its impact on social mobility:

Assortative mating is the idea that people marry people like themselves, with similar education and earnings potential and the values and lifestyle that come with them. It was common in the early 20th century, dipped in the middle of the century and has sharply risen in recent years — a pattern that roughly mirrors income inequality in the United States, according to research by Robert Mare, a sociologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. People are now more likely to marry people with similar educational attainment — even after controlling for differences between men and women, like the fact that women were once less likely to attend college.

The article offers several examples of how couples cope with the situation where the female outlearns the male and offers charts and graphs showing the disparity in earnings within married couples and between professional couples and couples where both partners have hourly jobs. Unsurprisingly, professional couples earn far more than hourly couples and the wages gap between husbands and wives who work at hourly jobs is narrower than the wage gap between husbands and wives who work at professional jobs. But equally unsurprising the impact of assortative mating on social mobility, an issue that is touched on in the article but not amplified. Professional college educated couples have more money to spend on things like private preschool education and summer enrichment programs. Moreover their “values and lifestyle” promote the virtue of such spending. Thus, their children benefit from these kinds of programs and are better positioned to get into good colleges where they will meet prospective spouses who have the same kind of upbringing. Hourly workers who want a better life for their children are at a disadvantage from the outset: they cannot afford the pricey private preschools or summer enrichment programs and if preschool programs are not available they often rely on baby-sitters who are less likely to offer intellectually stimulating opportunities for their children. Their children, in turn, attend public schools that are likely underfunded and therefore inferior to those provided to college educated professional couples… and they are consequently unlikely to attend college where they might meet a partner who might be from a higher station and/or striving to get out of the hourly wage jobs.

What’s a democratic nation that values social mobility to do when the economic, demographic, and “natural” tendency is assortative mating that reinforces the class structure? The best step to take is to provide the children of hourly employees with the same opportunities as the children of affluent professional couples receive. If we are serious about equal opportunity we need to increase taxes on those who can afford to pay them– high-earning couples and especially corporations– and develop and offer after school and summer enrichment programs that enable children of hourly employees to have equal footing with their classmates who were fortunate enough to have been born into affluence. Children cannot pull themselves up by the bootstraps if they cannot afford to buy boots.

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