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Tyler Cowen points me to a paper today about the rise in assortative mating. Basically, this means that we increasingly marry people who are similar to ourselves. High school grads tend to marry other high school grads, and college grads tend to marry other college grads. The authors of the paper conclude that this has implications for rising income inequality:
If matching in 2005 between husbands and wives had been random, instead of the pattern observed in the data, then the Gini coefficient would have fallen from the observed 0.43 to 0.34, so that income inequality would be smaller. Thus, assortative mating is important for income inequality. The high level of married female labor-force participation in 2005 is important for this result.
The table on the right is a standardized contingency table that compares 1960 to 2005. The diagonal numbers show the percentage of each educational class who are married to others of the same educational class, and in every case the numbers are higher in 2005. This does indeed suggest that assortative mating has contributed to increasing income inequality. However, I'd offer a few caveats:
This is interesting data, which is why I'm presenting it here. And it almost certainly has an impact on changes of income distribution between, say, the top fifth and the middle fifth. But the real drivers of rising income inequality, which have driven up the incomes of the top one percent so stratospherically, almost certainly lie elsewhere.