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.
KeywordsSocial 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.
- Blau, P. M., & Duncan, O. D. (1967). The American occupational structure. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Conley, D. (1999). Being black, living in the red: Race, wealth, and social policy in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Mulligan, C. B. (1997). Parental priorities and economic inequality. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Oliver, M. L., & Shapiro, T. M. (1995). Black wealth/white wealth: A new perspective on racial inequality. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Panel Study of Income Dynamics, 1968–2007 Family, 1968–2007 Cross-Year Individual, public use data sets. (2010). Produced and distributed by the University of Michigan with primary funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Aging, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Ann Arbor, MI.Google Scholar
- Pencavel, J. (1998). Assortative mating by schooling and the work behavior of wives and husbands. American Economic Review, 88, 326–329.Google Scholar
- Solon, G. (1992). Intergenerational income mobility in the United States. American Economic Review, 82, 393–408.Google Scholar
- Solon, G. (1999). Intergenerational mobility in the labor market. In O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (Eds.), Handbook of labor economics (Vol. 3, pp. 1761–1800). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Elsevier.Google Scholar
- Uunk, W. J. G., Ganzeboom, H. B. G., & Róbert, P. (1996). Bivariate and multivariate scaled association models. An application to homogamy of social origin and education in Hungary between 1930 and 1979. Quality and Quantity, 30, 323–343.Google Scholar
- Zimmerman, D. J. (1992). Regression toward mediocrity in economic stature. American Economic Review, 82, 409–429.Google Scholar