, Volume 50, Issue 1, pp 51-70

First online:

Marital Sorting and Parental Wealth

  • Kerwin Kofi CharlesAffiliated withHarris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago Email author 
  • , Erik HurstAffiliated withBooth School of Business, University of Chicago
  • , Alexandra KillewaldAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Harvard University

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The extent of marital sorting by socioeconomic background has implications for the intergenerational transmission of inequality, the role of marriage as a mechanism for social mobility, and the extent of cross-group interactions within a society. However, studies of assortative mating have disproportionately focused on spouses’ education, rather than their social origins. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), and exploiting the unique genealogical design of the data set, we study the degree to which spouses sort on the basis of parental wealth. We find that the estimated correlation in parental wealth among married spouses, after controlling for race and age, is about .4. Importantly, we show that controlling for spousal education explains only one-quarter of sorting based on parental wealth. We show that our results are robust to accounting for measurement error in spousal reports of parental wealth and for selection into and out of marriage.


Social mobility Marriage Inequality Multigenerational Wealth