Marrying Up is Down

DISCLAIMER: I’m not a social scientist, a statistician, an economist or a politician. So I may be talking out of my hat.



The IPPR has published a report on marriage patterns, and it shows that fewer women are “marrying up”. According to the report I read in the Observer today “IPPR director Nick Pearce said class had “tightened its grip” on families: “This shift has implications for inequality, as well-educated, higher earners marry each other and pass on the fruits of their success to their children.”” The paradigm example given in the article is a female secretary marrying the male boss. In fact it appears from the equivalent article in The Independent that Nick Pearce is slightly misquoted – the full quote is that  “social class has tightened its grip on marriage” not family, which is not quite the same thing.

This report sounds actually really interesting but irritatingly I could find no link to it or even any press release about it on the IPPR website. And so it isn’t really possible to drill down into what it is all about, and I was left with a glimpse of the statistical information and a few odd quotes, the context of which was unclear.

I’m not sure what the implications of this report actually are because I can’t actually read it (ggrrr), and am imagining it through the prism of what the press thinks is newsworthy, but reading this article left me with a slightly odd sensation that I should regard a change in such patterns is a bad thing. Am I missing something? I understand the argument that if more people marry within their own class, wider income inequalities are exacerbated. But aren’t we simply talking about more women achieving an upward movement by means other than marriage? And more of those women marrying partners who are like them rather than their seedy old boss?

A social scientist (author of a thing called Honey Money, whatever that may be) is quoted in the article as suggesting that “there is plenty of evidence that most women aspire to marry a wealthy man”. Really? Most women? Speak for yourself love. If I can’t make my own money I certainly don’t want to be beholden to any sugar daddy (Just as well, ‘im indoors most definitely ain’t loaded).

That most women who aspire to “move up” now aspire to do so by dint of their own hard work and intelligence rather than their ability or willingness to catch the eye of their seedy male boss is surely a known phenomenon and something that we should embrace?

And that many women may be motivated by factors other than wealth or career is surely not so difficult to comprehend?

And that some successful men may be wary about the financial risks associated with marrying “down” is surely not a controversial proposition either.

But, continues the social scientist:

“As women become better educated, and start to outnumber men among higher education students, it becomes impossible for all to marry an even more highly educated and high-earning spouse, so they are increasingly forced to marry equal or down.

“This is going to have a huge impact in the long term, as wives become equal earners to husbands, even higher earners. So sometimes couples will decide that it should be the husband who stays at home to look after the kids and the home, and you get an increase in role-reversal households.” Such families suffer higher divorce rates, she said.

Do you see what I mean? Forced to marry equal or down? We can’t all be Kate Middleton, eh? What a load of “Prince Charming” aspirational B.S. (I know, I’m over-reacting a tad – I understand that the statement is logically accurate but the use of the word “forced” implies aspiration disappointed).

Maybe this has hit a nerve because the role-reversal household model she goes on to describe reflects my own household, and maybe I’m coming from the perspective of women “like me” (whoever they are) – but the way this is put grates. I’m not aware of any research that “such families suffer higher divorce rates”. I’ve had a good old google and I can’t find anything (if there is some please set me straight in comments – I’d be genuinely interested in reading it). Even if the proposition that role reversal families suffer higher divorce rates is correct, one would need to go beyond mere correlation in order to show causation.

Ah well, spare a thought for the poor chaps who can’t find enough good girls to marry “down” to. There’s only troublesome independent ones to be had these days. And it’s our fault that financial inequality is on the up because of our selfish insistence on equality, right? Arguments that “feminism has trumped egalitarianism” are not new (e.g. here).

I sense (in fact I know) that this is all rather more complicated and less clear cut than I would like it to be. But surely there must be a way to achieve social equality and minimise poverty other than “marrying up“? (more reality TV shows perhaps?)

One thought on “Marrying Up is Down

  1. Eh,

    Well there might be a reason why the marrying ‘up’ is reducing; but only based on unscientific anacdotal reasons I see in the US.

    In the US marrying non-native, preferably non-white women seems to be the rage for wealthy white males. White females are seen by at least a small percentage as being burdened with some attitudes that don’t quite have much appea for marriage.

    Indeed of the dozen males of various ethnic hues (but mostly white) in my immediate vicinity, all earning $100k or above, each and everyone is married – but not one to a white US female. Thai, Chinese, Mexican, some Spanish, Vietnamese…not a single one born in the US and white.

    Some were married originally to white US females and are in second marriages (or even third), but the majority are on first marriages and wouldn’t contemplate a white US female as a wife if you paid them.

    In the US some MRA groups actively promote the idea that US males should avoid US white females at all costs.

    This isn’t the forum to discuss the reasons why.

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