The Importance of Partner Matching on Ascribed and Achieved Characteristics for Wealth Inequality

Diederik Boertien , Centre d’Estudis Demogràfics (CED)
Iñaki Permanyer, Centre for Demographic Studies

This paper provides the first estimates of how important partner matching based on ascribed and achieved characteristics is for wealth inequality between households. Wealth transmission from generation to generation within families is a key social stratification process in society. Partnering homogamy based on family background is therewith an important mechanism through which families can conserve and expand their advantaged societal position. We use data from the United States’ Survey of Consumer Finances on the net worth of 2,155 couples in 2016. We estimate the importance of partnering based on ascribed characteristics for wealth inequality between households, and compare their potential impact to those of achieved characteristics. To achieve this goal, we elaborate existing counterfactual simulation techniques further to enable investigating wealth inequality. The results indicate that if individuals would partner across parental education lines, this would reduce the 90/50 percentile ratio in wealth by an estimated 17%. The potential impact of partner selection based on own achieved education is more limited, and this conclusion holds across inequality measures. These results shed new light on the relevance of partnering based on ascribed characteristics for our understanding of social stratification processes and how partnering based on achieved characteristics appear to have a surprisingly limited impact on wealth inequality.

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 Presented in Session 40. Partner Formation, Union Dissolution and Consequences