Polly on inequality

…the incomes of rich and poor families have drawn further apart.

Let\’s take that as true (for households it definitely is in fact).


Seems an interesting question really. The answer is, at least in part (I would argue in large part but don\’t have the figures to prove it) assortative mating.

We match up, marry, have children, later than we used to. Nearly a full decade later in fact on average. We tend to meet our mates through our work these days (not an unlikely thing for those hitching up in their late 20s). This is rather different from the matching up when marriage ages were lower.

So, now, we tend to match up with those following a similar life path to our own, rather than simply with someone from the same geographical or extended familial networks. This leads to the rise of the two professionals marriage, something that was really rather rare in decades past.

Who are those households at the top of the household income distribution? The two professionals households.

One of the reasons (and as above, I would argue, one of the major ones) for the divergence in household incomes is simply a change in the mating habits of the population. Professionals tend to marry professionals, non-professionals non-, much more than used to be the case. So we end up with households with two professional incomes and households with none, where we might in the past have had two households with one professional income each.

As I keep trying to emphasise here we\’ve got to try and work out why certain things happen if we\’re ever to have any hope of correcting perceived problems: or, indeed, of deciding that that why means that the result is not a problem.

Now, if it is true that assortative mating is behind the rise in variance of household incomes, what in buggery could we possibly do about it? Insist that accountants marry proles?

12 thoughts on “Polly on inequality”

  1. if assortative mating happens, why hasn’t it been happening for the last few centuries? How can it explain a recent rise in household inequality?

    Tim adds: Assortative mating has happened for centuries, of course, aristocrats married aristocrats etc. However, there has indeed been a large chang in hte rate at which it happens in the professional classes in recent decades. It’s a side effect (possibly) of women entering the full time long term workforce, the later date of marriage and the way in which we more and more find out mates through work or professional life.

  2. “I think the Daily Mash has the best report..”

    The Daily Mash often makes far more sense than government ministers. It’s far more honest too..

  3. you mention another possible factor there – another things that might be happening is that the wealth are having children later in life, and having fewer children. If that’s true, how would that affect inequality?

  4. could also explain autism, and the rise in its occurance.

    Tim adds: Indeed, it does, and that is Simon Baron Cohen’s explanation (cousin of Sasha and head of the Autism Centre at Cambridge University).

  5. Now, if it is true that assortative mating is behind the rise in variance of household incomes, what in buggery could we possibly do about it? Insist that accountants marry proles?

    We should possibly leave buggery out of the solution, Tim.

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    Well obviously we need to redress the playing field as it were. Girls who want to be WAGs do so because of the massive salaries, and assorted life style benefits that follow from that, footballers get. Now raising the salaries of PhDs might be a little difficult so what if the Government just offered a massive subsidy to any girl who married someone with a doctorate, a less massive one to anyone who marries someone with a Masters and so on?

    To make sure this encourages non-assortative marriages the Government could pay this in the form of Burberry and Bulmer’s Cider vouchers.

  7. Here’s a possible answer to the original question, one which treats its subjects with a measure of human dignity, and not like the inhabitants of a primate cage scratching their heads and banging half a cococonut against the ground, the sort of creatures possessed of ‘mating habits’ –

    The rich are sending the jobs to India and China, the poor have to take whatever shit is left. Not the answer most likely to appeal to biological reductionists, but a strong contender for most likely real-world scenario.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *