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The role of evolving marital preferences in growing income inequality

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Publication details

JournalJournal of Population Economics
DateAccepted/In press - 5 Jun 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print - 3 Jul 2019
DatePublished (current) - Jan 2020
Pages (from-to)307-347
Early online date3/07/19
Original languageEnglish


In this paper, we describe mating patterns in the USA from 1964 to 2017 and measure the impact of changes in marital preferences on between-household income inequality. We rely on the recent literature on the econometrics of matching models to estimate complementarity parameters of the household production function. Our structural approach allows us to measure sorting along multiple dimensions and to effectively disentangle changes in marital preferences and in demographics, addressing concerns that affect results from existing literature. We answer the following questions: Has assortativeness increased over time? Along which dimensions? To what extent can the shifts in marital preferences explain inequality trends? We find that, after controlling for other observables, assortative mating in education has become stronger. Moreover, if mating patterns had not changed since 1971, the 2017 Gini coefficient between married households would be 6% lower. We conclude that about 25% of the increase in between-household inequality is due to changes in marital preferences. Increased assortativeness in education positively contributes to the rise in inequality, but only modestly.

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