Marrying up by Marrying down: Status Exchange between Social Origin and Education in the United States

Zhen Zeng, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Christine R. Schwartz, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Yu Xie, University of Michigan

The idea that marriages across social boundaries may be based on an exchange of future economic prospects, beauty, racial status, domestic skills, or some other trait desirable is known as status exchange. The research on status-exchange marriage in the U.S. has primarily focused on the exchange of racial status and class. We examine a type of exchange that has never been studied before--the exchange of social origin (parental socioeconomic status) and own educational attainment. Drawing on data from the 1968-2007 PSID, we show that when people marry up in social origin (education), they tend to offer a relative advantage in education (social origin). The pattern holds true for both men and women and is robust to model specifications. Our research points to the importance of social background, not only for individual’s own educational attainment and success, but also in shaping the family characteristics of the next generation.

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Presented in Session 192: Assortative Mating in Developed Countries