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

See all articles by Ariel Binder

Ariel Binder

U.S. Census Bureau

David A. Lam

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: August 2018

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

Binder, Ariel and Lam, David A., Is There a Male Breadwinner Norm? The Hazards of Inferring Preferences from Marriage Market Outcomes (August 2018). NBER Working Paper No. w24907, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3236710

Ariel Binder (Contact Author)

U.S. Census Bureau ( email )

4600 Silver Hill Road
Washington, DC 20233
United States

David A. Lam

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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