Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 307–347 | Cite as

The role of evolving marital preferences in growing income inequality

  • Edoardo CiscatoEmail author
  • Simon Weber
Original Paper


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.


Matching Assortative mating Marital preferences Between-household inequality 

JEL Classification

D1 I24 J12 



The authors thank the editor and two anonymous reviewers for very helpful comments. Additionally, the authors acknowledge the insightful comments of Arnaud Dupuy, Alfred Galichon, Sonia Jaffe, Andreas Steinhauer, Frederic Vermeulen, Paul Vertier, and seminar participants at University of Chicago, Sciences Po Paris, and the RES Symposium of Junior Researchers. The data used in this paper are available from IPUMS-CPS, University of Minnesota,

Funding Information

Weber is grateful for financial support from the France Chicago Center Exchange Fellowship and for the hospitality of the CEHD at the University of Chicago where part of this paper was written.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsSciences Po ParisParisFrance
  2. 2.Department of Economics and Related StudiesUniversity of YorkYorkEngland

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