What Percentage of People Marry Outside of their Income Level?

See above. My Google searches have yet to reveal any polls or studies or what have you. If this can be broken down by class, it would be even more helpful.

Also: For those who have married outside of their income level, what best describes the changes in their financial situation? Does the couple move from lower-middle class to middle class, or do they reach some kind of equilibrium given their shared income?

I’m not sure that income level, by itself, is a solid indicator of “class”, anyway.

For example, when we got married, my wife had an income about 1/3 of mine. Why? Because I worked for a big company in market research, and had a good salary, while she worked as a new teacher at a small private school, and made very little. We were both from families which you’d likely classify as “middle class”…if anything, her family’s financial situation was probably a little stronger than mine.

I had thought about that before starting the thread, and I think you’re probably right. I was trying to avoid potential What Do You Mean By Class? and Class Distinctions Are Meaningless! derails, but it’s sort of a difficult thing to skirt, given that I’m really, actually asking about class and not about income level, as you’ve so quickly and astutely pointed out. So let’s just say that I’m using the terms “income level” and “class” interchangeably here. Does anybody have any relevant studies?

OTOH, I found that our total disposable income went up tremendously when I got married, even though we both had decent incomes. Paying for 1 dwelling not two, 1 cable/satellite TV and internet, 1 electricity and heating bill not 2, etc. - basically what my wife paid in rent and much else became disposable income. (DINKs rule!!)

Plus, kenobi is right - “class” or whatever is pretty broad; an auto worker probably makes as much as a teacher, as a computer geek I made twice as much as my wife, but generally we’re all in the same class. More likely you mean something along the lines of marrying Trump or someone from the trailer park marrying the guy with the mercedes? Plus, most people are moving up the income ladder most of their working life and accumulating assets, which is why the parents can seem richer.

I guess the lack of stats is due to the difficulty of pinning down the actual definition.

I had read anecdotally that in fact, modern US society was probably more stratified than in earlier times; since with suburbs vs urban, and local high schools, people tended to find mates from their homogenous neighbourhood in their same socio-economic class.

I think that’s right. While most people probably would agree that a family working minimum-wage jobs is probably in the lower class, Donald Trump is upper class (in income, not personality :wink: ), and someone somewhere between the two is probably middle class, these aren’t terms for which there are precise definitions, in part because “social class” may be about attitude and family history as much as it is about income and net worth. (It’s not like the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the IRS has created a hard-and-fast definition of “middle class”).

Thus, with no clear definitions, such a study would be difficult, if not impossible, to conduct.

The answer is going to depend on how you define class, and income isn’t all that great an indicator. Plumbers make significantly more than some university faculty, but I don’t think anyone would argue that plumbing is the higher class occupation. That said, the NY Times wrote a series of articles on class in America a few years back that were eventually collected in a book, and one of them was on cross-class marriages. I would expect that to have a few statistics that you might find interesting.

I don’t see how this thread is going to get anywhere, because if you are going to disassociate class from income, then you’re going to have to set ground rules which do define what you mean by “class”.

For example, does anyone remember Love Story? One could easily argue that the big difference between Ollie and Jenny was not that their families had different incomes, but that one family was laid-back and the other was stuffed-up. That’s what I mean by “class”, but others will differ, and that’s gonna have to get cleared up before we can have a meaningful conversation.

I think a good way would be to define an earning ratio

For example someone making more than 33% of one spouse’s salary.

So if you make $25,000 it be ±33% of your income. So in this case 25,000 X .33 = 8,250

25,000 + 8,250 = 33,250
25,000 - 8,250 = 16,750

So in my example your marrying income range would between $16,750 and $33,250

Anything else would be outside your income. Of course you can use any percent

Markxxx: good idea, but it isn’t reflexive. e.g. If the higher earner marries somebody at 67% of their income (just inside the -33% range), that means the lower earner is marrying somebody at +49% of *their *income. So one is marrying within their class and the other is marrying outside it.

That *might *be a sensible formulation, but I sorta doubt it.

I think this sounds like a fun project for avoiding my personal research. Perhaps I will go crunch some data.

However, as a sociologist, I think income is probably not the best measure to use for this question. First of all, income fluctuates from year to year and (hopefully) increases substantially over the life course. Also, once a couple gets married, the fact that they are married to specific individuals likely shapes their decisions about their own career path in the future. (I.e., lots of women cut back on careers to raise kids.) To use income, then, we’d need income from something like a year before the couple gets engaged. (That is possible to come by, but not anytime soon.) Further complicating things is that men are often older than the women they marry. Since age is correlated with income, that makes the picture less clear.

I’d use level of education, maybe in five rough groups: high school drop out, high school diploma/GED, some college, BA, graduate/professional degree. Level of education is often used as a measure of social class in sociology. Is it perfect? No. But it’ll do. (What would be awesome for this question would be some sort of data on parents’ education/occupation/income, but I don’t know where to find that quickly.)

I’d do my analysis separately for men and women. My suspicion is that, especially for older generations, it was more common for women to marry men with higher levels of education than vice versa.

And speaking of age, I’d probably do some age groups. Something like: 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-75.

Finally, I think I’d want to throw race/ethnicity into the model. Why? Because I know that compared to black men, black women are way over-represented in higher education, but things are much more even for whites.

Anything else that should go into this analysis?

I don’t think anybody in this thread is trying to divorce income from class, myself included. And I know that couching my query in terms of class distinctions leaves me in a real gray area with respect to the results I can expect. I’m fine with that, actually. It’s intentionally broad. I could try to impose limits on the type of information I’m looking for – something like BetsQ is doing in the post directly above mine, you know, setting parameters and all that – but I’m equally interested in how researchers have dealt with that problem. So the studies, if anybody could find more than one of them, don’t have to agree with eachother in terms of methodology. Looking at how people choose to approach the problem is profitable to me, too.

But first and foremost, I’m looking for “hard” numbers here, maybe some bar graphs of varying colors, lists of percentages, etc. So long as the studies have something to do with my question, the nitty-gritty of how researchers do their thing isn’t so important to me.

One factor to consider is that many people who marry outside of their income class marry inside their professional class, e.g., doctor marries nurse (the classic example), star marries chorus line dancer, lawyer marries paralegal, CEO marries administrative assistant, etc.

There’s also the factor of a spouse working to put the other spouse through school.

My wife’s family is an interesting case history. The older generation was pretty much completely blue-collar/skilled trades (plumbers, carpenters, electricians, etc.) About half their kids went to college, while the other half stayed in the trades. A lot of the kids who went to college ended up marrying someone in the trades, because, despite their education, they were more comfortable living a blue-collar lifestyle. Of course, that doesn’t correlate to income at all – the most affluent of my wife’s cousins is a liberal arts graduate who married a (very successful) contractor.

Perhaps, though, parents education level is the best indicator. Read the Freakonomics chapters about how the single most important determinant of a child’s success is the education level of the parents.*

Then you can do side research about how many people “move up” in class by being the first one in their family to go to college.

The real stat then would be not who married one-up or one-down (HS on college grad) so much as who married 2 up or 2 down - HS dropout and college grad, MS/PhD and HS grad, etc.

As for income, I would go well beyond 30%; probably even more than 100% up and 50% down. The trouble is a decent “middle income” family could be anything from $40,000 to $120,000 or more. The high end just has a few more luxuries - second car, bigger house, vacation, more toys; they are not likely to be “upper class” as in “we have servants”…

  • Yes I know people move up and down in class and there are exceptions. The trouble with statistics, as some wag pointed out, is that “the average person has one breast and one testicle.”