, Volume 50, Issue 1, pp 51–70 | Cite as

Marital Sorting and Parental Wealth

  • Kerwin Kofi CharlesEmail author
  • Erik Hurst
  • Alexandra Killewald


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 



We thank Daron Acemoglu, Mark Aguiar, Steve Levitt, Bruce Meyer, and Emily Oster, along with seminar participants at the University of Chicago for helpful comments. Charles gratefully acknowledges support from the Searle Freedom Trust. Hurst acknowledges financial support from the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. Killewald acknowledges financial support from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, Rackham Graduate School, and the Quantitative Methodology Program in the Survey Research Center, all at the University of Michigan. The Panel Study of Income Dynamics is primarily sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Aging, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and is conducted by the University of Michigan. All authors have contributed equally to the project, and we use the convention of alphabetical listing of author names.

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kerwin Kofi Charles
    • 1
    Email author
  • Erik Hurst
    • 2
  • Alexandra Killewald
    • 3
  1. 1.Harris School of Public PolicyUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Booth School of BusinessUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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