Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender Asymmetry in Educational and Income Assortative Marriage

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender Asymmetry in Educational and Income Assortative Marriage

Article excerpt

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Women have made greater gains in educational attainment than men during the past few decades in the United States. Currently, women earn about 60% of bachelor's and master's degrees and half of all doctoral degrees (DiPrete & Buchmann, 2013). The rising female advantage in educational attainment has coincided with substantial changes in marriage patterns. In 2012, 21% of married women had spouses who were less educated than they were-a twofold increase from 1980 (Wang, 2014). During the period when the gender gap in education narrowed and eventually reversed, has the normative practice of women marrying men of higher socioeconomic status (i.e., hypergamy) been eroded? When they marry less-educated men, do women also marry men with lower incomes, thereby challenging the traditional breadwinning role of men in the family? In answering these questions, this article offers a critical empirical investigation of gender asymmetry in assortative mating and presents a detailed picture of the state of gender equality in heterosexual marriages.

Women married to men with less education than themselves are often thought to challenge the traditional, male-dominant status in marriage (Kaukinen, 2004; Schwartz & Han, 2014). The previously nonnormative arrangement-educational hypogamy (i.e., marriages in which the wife has more education than the husband)-has become more common (Schwartz & Mare, 2005). Does increasing educational hypogamy indicate a shift away from the convention of mate selection that embodies male dominance? In this article, I argue that an exclusive focus on educational assortative mating provides an incomplete understanding of mate selection patterns and overstates gender change in heterosexual marriages. This study advances prior work toward a more comprehensive understanding of the gendered and multidimensional nature of mate selection by examining how income and education jointly shape assortative mating patterns.

Compared with educational differentials between two spouses, men's income advantage over their wives is more central to their identity as breadwinners and household heads (Tichenor, 2005). The smaller amount of money women bring into the household relative to their husbands contributes to women's subordinate status and lower bargaining power in the family (England, 2003). Despite the importance of spouses' relative income in shaping power dynamics between them (Bittman et al., 2003; Tichenor, 2005), research on income assortative mating has been scant.

Despite the decline and eventual reversal of the gender gap in education (DiPrete & Buchmann, 2013), a gender gap in pay persists: In 2011, the median hourly pay of women was 84% that of men (Economic Policy Institute, 2012). On one hand, women's advantage in education may enable them to be more economically independent and thus put less emphasis on economic traits when evaluating potential spouses (Press, 2004). On the other hand, evidence suggests that men may still feel uncomfortable forming relationships in which they have lower status than their female partners (Bertrand, Kamenica, & Pan, 2015; Fisman, Iyengar, Kamenica, & Simonson, 2006). This persistent gendered norm as well as the gender pay gap mean that men-especially men who do not have an educational advantage over their wives-may marry women with lower incomes than themselves to preserve their status and gender role expectations in marriage. Hence, I go beyond prior studies by incorporating both education and income into the analysis of gender asymmetry in assortative mating to provide a better understanding of changes in gender role expectations and spouses' relative socioeconomic status in marriage.

This study investigates how men's and women's education and income jointly shape mate selection patterns in the United States. I ask (a) whether the patterns of educational and income assortative marriage are symmetrical with respect to gender and (b) whether they have changed in recent decades when gender inequality in education and employment has changed substantially. …

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