Posted by: Dan Beucke on December 5, 2011 at 3:00 PM
The gap between rich and poor is growing, and not just in the U.S. The latest report on the topic from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development tells us that average household income for the richest tenth of the developed world’s population is nine times that of the poorest tenth. The U.S. ratio is 14-to-1.
There’s a lot more in the report about the trend and its causes. Income disparities, which first showed up in the U.S. and United Kingdom some 40 years ago, have spread even to Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. Globalization, technology advances, and regulatory changes are all factors, though the contributions of each are debatable. At the same time, programs that should cushion the blow for the less-wealthy are losing their punch: Income taxes have been cut in ways that disproportionately benefit those with high incomes. Social spending growth favors programs whose benefits are distributed more evenly across income levels (think Social Security).
Some of the most interesting data are those on families. The report notes a rise in “single-headed households,” from 15% of developing-country working-age households in the late 1980s to 20% in the mid 2000s. Smaller households are less able to share income, wealth, and expenses — thus contributing to income inequality.
Tucked into that same section is this nugget about spousal disparities:
In couple households, the wives of top earners were those whose employment rates increased the most. There was also in all countries a rise in the phenomenon known as “assortative mating”, that is to say people with higher earnings having their spouses in the same earnings bracket - e.g. doctors marrying doctors rather than nurses. Today, 40% of couples where both partners work belong to the same or neighbouring earnings deciles compared with 33% some 20 years ago.
This opens a whole other debate about the growing disparity of marriage. Those with less education are less likely to be married in the U.S. today, leaving those with more education to reap the economic benefits of having another earning member in the household. And rising education levels have allowed adults — especially men — to “upgrade” their spouses, as was explained by Richard Fry and D’Vera Cohn in this 2010 Pew Research Center study that Mark Gimein pointed me to:
Among adults with some college education, the pool of potential wives has expanded more rapidly than the pool of potential husbands. In this group, a higher share of men in 2007 had wives with more education than they did—28% had a wife with a college degree in 2007, compared with 9% in 1970. Women with some college education in 2007 were less likely to have a husband with a college degree than their counterparts were in 1970—21% versus 39%. Among college-educated adults, married men are markedly more likely to have a wife who is college educated—only 37% did in 1970, compared with 71% in 2007. College-educated married women, though, are somewhat less likely to have a college-educated husband—70% did in 1970 and 64% did in 2007.
Annie Murphy Paul wrote about this in the New York Times back in 2006. Married couples increasingly share “a tax bracket and even an alma mater,” she noted. “Even as husbands and wives have moved closer together on measures of education and income, the divide between well-educated, well-paid couples and their less-privileged counterparts has widened… Are we achieving more egalitarian marriages at the cost of a more egalitarian society?”