In the United States today, income inequality is at an all-time high with the top 1% of the population holding more than 50% of all wealth within the United States. It should come as no shock then, that the United States also has one of the highest Gini coefficients throughout the world—0.499 to be exact. The Gini coefficient is used worldwide to compare countries and their levels of income inequality. A country with perfect equality would experience a Gini coefficient of 0, whereas a country with perfect inequality would experience a Gini coefficient of 1. When examining the United States’ Gini coefficient and high levels of income inequality, marriage and assortative mating are discussed as possible reasons.
Until recently, many individuals did not examine marriage as a reason for the increase in income inequality, but when a few studies regarding assortative mating were published approximately ten years ago, the idea that marriage could promote income inequality was taken very seriously. Within these studies, assortative mating by education level was increasing and had a positive relationship with income inequality. Assortative mating is commonly described as “the rich marrying the rich,” but a more precise definition would lead us to describe it as the tendency of similar or like individuals marrying one another. This definition is not only supported through studies, but also through the fact that approximately 72% of marriages exhibit homogamy.
An example of assortative mating and how it is effecting income inequality can be seen in the levels of education between a husband and wife. Today, income inequality amongst households with different levels of education is growing with every marriage. The graph below demonstrates this by showing the chances that a woman with a high level of education marrying a man with a lower level of education—as you can see, the chance that a woman with a college degree or higher marries a man with a college degree or higher is four times more likely than the woman marrying a man with a high school degree. Education is an important factor in marriage/income inequality because those with higher levels of education make more money. When you take two individuals who each obtained high levels of education and therefore make high salaries and marry them, it is easy to see how their combined income would be higher than the people surrounding them. This higher level of income only adds to the income inequality, especially if the people next to them is a married couple who did not obtain high levels of education.
Studies have shown that there are social implications that occur when assortative mating by level of education takes place. These implications further the income inequality divide by impeding social mobility. The largest implication that is commonly discussed is the gaps in income/wealth and its effect on children. Children who are born into the bottom quintile (income wise) only make up 9% of the highest quintile, representing how difficult it is to move from one economic class to another. This difficultly to move only increases the inequality by “forcing” individuals into certain social standings for generations.
Income inequality has been increasing since the 1970s and is seen by many as an issue that needs to be fixed immediately. Marriage and assortative mating is a great place to beginning improving income inequality and the United States’ Gini coefficient. By using the studies/data on assortative mating by education level, one can see that policies are needed to help smooth the wealth distribution within the United States.