, Volume 54, Issue 6, pp 2331–2349 | Cite as

Educational Pairings, Motherhood, and Women’s Relative Earnings in Europe

  • Jan Van BavelEmail author
  • Martin Klesment


As a consequence of the reversal of the gender gap in education, the female partner in a couple now typically has as much as or more education compared with the male partner in most Western countries. This study addresses the implications for the earnings of women relative to their male partners in 16 European countries. Using the 2007 and 2011 rounds of the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (N = 58,292), we investigate the extent to which international differences in women’s relative earnings can be explained by educational pairings and their interaction with the motherhood penalty on women’s earnings, by international differences in male unemployment, or by cultural gender norms. We find that the newly emerged pattern of hypogamy is associated with higher relative earnings for women in all countries and that the motherhood penalty on relative earnings is considerably lower in hypogamous couples, but neither of these findings can explain away international country differences. Similarly, male unemployment is associated with higher relative earnings for women but cannot explain away the country differences. Against expectations, we find that the hypogamy bonus on women’s relative earnings, if anything, tends to be stronger rather than weaker in countries that exhibit more conservative gender norms.


Marriage Educational assortative mating Income Gender roles Educational inequality 



The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement no. 312290 for the GENDERBALL project. The authors thank Gray Swicegood as well as the anonymous reviewers for many useful comments and suggestions.

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (PDF 429 kb)


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Sociological ResearchUniversity of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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