, Volume 54, Issue 3, pp 985–1005 | Cite as

Trends in Economic Homogamy: Changes in Assortative Mating or the Division of Labor in Marriage?

  • Pilar Gonalons-PonsEmail author
  • Christine R. Schwartz


The growing economic resemblance of spouses has contributed to rising inequality by increasing the number of couples in which there are two high- or two low-earning partners. The dominant explanation for this trend is increased assortative mating. Previous research has primarily relied on cross-sectional data and thus has been unable to disentangle changes in assortative mating from changes in the division of spouses’ paid labor—a potentially key mechanism given the dramatic rise in wives’ labor supply. We use data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) to decompose the increase in the correlation between spouses’ earnings and its contribution to inequality between 1970 and 2013 into parts due to (a) changes in assortative mating, and (b) changes in the division of paid labor. Contrary to what has often been assumed, the rise of economic homogamy and its contribution to inequality is largely attributable to changes in the division of paid labor rather than changes in sorting on earnings or earnings potential. Our findings indicate that the rise of economic homogamy cannot be explained by hypotheses centered on meeting and matching opportunities, and they show where in this process inequality is generated and where it is not.


Economic homogamy Assortative mating Division of paid labor Inequality Life course 



This research was carried out using the facilities of the Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (R24 HD047873) and was prepared for presentation at the 2014 annual meeting of the Population Association of America in Boston. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2013 International Sociological Association Research Committee on Social Stratification and Mobility (RC28) in Trento, Italy. We are grateful to Russell Dimond, Greg Duncan, Christopher McKelvey, Robert Pollak, and the participants of seminars and lectures at Duke University; New York University; University of California, Los Angeles; Washington University; and University of Wisconsin–Madison for helpful comments and advice.

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© Population Association of America 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social Sciences (FB03)Goethe University Frankfurt am MainFrankfurt am MainGermany
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and Center for Demography and EcologyUniversity of Wisconsin–MadisonMadisonUSA

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