Monday, December 28, 2015

The wedding bell curve

Tyler Cowen's Sunday New York Times article about income inequality arising from (ostensibly) meritocratic marriages is getting a lot of attention. This is the phenomenon of positive assortative mating, which was written about extensively by Gary Becker.

But leave aside the fact that it's difficult to pin down specific evidence on the effect, or indeed to come up with ideas that address it, as opposed to general action to mitigate inequality (such as taxation).

Note for example that the what might seem the most obvious solution -- creating more entry points to the meritocracy via testing -- tends to be resisted when East Asian families are seen as the beneficiaries.

But to be less contentious, there's another issue. The obsession with meritocratic-based marriages is itself a preoccupation of the type of people who aspire to be in such marriages, and indeed to read about them in the New York Times! David Brooks (the sociological, funny, Bobo-era one) got this spot on nearly 20 years ago, writing in the City Journal. The occupations might have changed slightly since his analysis (somewhat less lawyering and more consulting). And the class in question found a book -- the Piketty one -- to explain that the real concentration of wealth is happening due to those other r exceeding g people!

UPDATE: The apparent empirical evidence that positive assortative mating contributes to inequality is only apparent (via Matt O'Brien). 

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