Is There a Male Breadwinner Norm? The Hazards of Inferring Preferences from Marriage Market Outcomes
50 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2018 Last revised: 23 Jul 2021
Date Written: August 2018
Building on standard marital matching models, we show that a variety of underlying social preferences about a given trait all generate positive assortative matching on that trait, and hence the same distribution of spousal trait differences in equilibrium. Applying this result to U.S. Census and administrative earnings data, we find that simple models of assortative matching can very closely replicate the observed distribution of spousal earnings differences, in which very few wives out-earn their husbands. We conclude that the distribution of spousal earnings differences in the U.S. provides little information about the existence and implications of a male breadwinner norm.
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