‘Marrying Down’ Costs Educated Women $25K a Year

A new theory posits that a less educated husband can spell financial ruin for educated women, especially Black women.

National Journal
June 22, 2015, 7:11 a.m.

It’s widely known that low edu­ca­tion­al at­tain­ment, neigh­bor­hood ra­cial se­greg­a­tion, and a biased crim­in­al-justice sys­tem are det­ri­ment­al to Black Amer­ic­ans’ abil­ity to climb the eco­nom­ic lad­der. But Richard Reeves, a policy dir­ect­or at the Cen­ter on Chil­dren and Fam­il­ies at Brook­ings, has found that mar­riage also plays a part.

Mar­riage across ra­cial lines has shot up in the past few dec­ades, and a Pew Re­search Cen­ter study found that in 2010 about 15 per­cent of all new mar­riages in the United States were between couples of dif­fer­ent eth­ni­cit­ies, more than double the rate in 1980.

Asi­an wo­men were most likely to marry out­side their own race, fol­lowed by Asi­an men. And an Asi­an man who mar­ried a White wo­man held the highest me­di­an in­come ($71,800), ac­cord­ing to the Pew study. Black wo­men, however, were among the least likely to marry out­side their own race. That wouldn’t mean much, ex­cept when we con­sider that Black men have one of the low­est edu­ca­tion­al at­tain­ment rates.

“I’m not sure it im­pedes so­cial mo­bil­ity, but it main­tains a level of so­cial in­equal­ity.” — Eco­nom­ist Wil­li­am Dar­ity Jr., Duke Uni­versity

“There’s al­most a triple di­men­sion of is­sues [Black wo­men] have to deal with,” said Kris Marsh, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fess­or of so­ci­ology and demo­graphy at the Uni­versity of Mary­land. “One, they have a low, and I quote this, ‘out-mar­riage’ rate. And two, if they do marry a Black man, they’re more likely to marry someone less edu­cated than them­selves. And the oth­er thing that’s in­ter­est­ing is that [Black wo­men] “¦ are much more likely to not marry at all.”

The onus doesn’t fall on Black wo­men though, Marsh says.

In gen­er­al, Black Amer­ic­ans face sub­stan­tially high­er rates of poverty than whites, 17 times lower wealth, as well as high­er rates of in­car­cer­a­tion. Blacks by and large at­tend the coun­try’s worst schools, and are like­li­er to drop out be­fore gradu­ation, which has con­trib­uted to an en­vir­on­ment where Black chil­dren are more likely to be born in­to poverty and where they are much less likely to es­cape it.

In fact, Reeves has found that sev­en out of 10 Black chil­dren born in­to fam­il­ies in the middle quin­tile of the in­come spec­trum will ac­tu­ally earn less than their par­ents as they be­come adults.

Ac­cord­ing to the sci­ence, the best way to en­sure a fin­an­cially stable fu­ture is to get an edu­ca­tion. An­oth­er way is to choose a part­ner who has one, too. In eco­nom­ist ar­got, this is called “as­sort­at­ive mat­ing,” which Reeves con­cedes is a par­tic­u­larly un­ro­mantic term that “only a so­cial sci­ent­ist could come up with.”

As­sort­at­ive mat­ing has in­creased in­equal­ity, be­cause the rate at which a man with a col­lege de­gree mar­ries a wo­man with a de­gree has doubled in the past 40 years, leav­ing those too poor to af­ford col­lege to marry someone else who also nev­er at­ten­ded.

This is im­port­ant when you take in­to ac­count that eco­nom­ists find that between 10 and 16 per­cent of the coun­try’s in­come in­equal­ity is due to the “grow­ing cor­rel­a­tion of earned in­comes re­ceived by hus­bands and wives.” That’s a con­clu­sion by Gary Burt­less, a seni­or fel­low at Brook­ings notes, which was cited by Reeves.

So how ex­actly does mar­riage im­pact mo­bil­ity?

A White or Black wo­man who mar­ries someone less edu­cated will suf­fer a house­hold in­come of $25,000 less a year. Be­cause edu­cated Black wo­men more fre­quently marry a less edu­cated man, the in­come de­fi­cit af­fects Black fam­il­ies more of­ten.

“I’m not sure it im­pedes so­cial mo­bil­ity, but it main­tains a level of so­cial in­equal­ity,” says eco­nom­ist Wil­li­am Dar­ity Jr., the Samuel DuBois Cook Pro­fess­or of Pub­lic Policy at Duke Uni­versity, who also teaches Afric­an and Afric­an-Amer­ic­an stud­ies. “If we think the solu­tion is to have more wealthy white people marry lower re­sourced, less wealthy Black people, I’m not sure you can en­act that as as so­cial policy.”

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