Marrying Up by Marrying Down: Status Exchange between Social Origin and Education in the United States

Christine R. Schwartz, Zhen Zeng, Yu Xie

Sociological Science, November 28, 2016
DOI 10.15195/v3.a44



Intermarriage plays a key role in stratification systems. Spousal resemblance reinforces social boundaries within and across generations, and the rules of intermarriage govern the ways that social mobility may occur. We examine intermarriage across social origin and education boundaries in the United States using data from the 1968–2013 Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Our evidence points to a pattern of status exchange—that is, persons with high education from modest backgrounds tend to marry those with lower education from more privileged backgrounds. Our study contributes to an active methodological debate by pinpointing the conditions under which the results pivot from evidence against exchange to evidence for exchange and advances theory by showing that the rules of exchange are more consistent with the notion of diminishing marginal utility than the more general theory of compensating differentials.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Christine R. Schwartz: Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Zhen Zeng: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics

Yu Xie: Department of Sociology, Princeton University; Center for Social Research, Peking University

Acknowledgements: This research was carried out using the facilities of the Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (R24 HD047873), the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan (R24HD041028), and the Office of Population Research at Princeton University (R24H0047879). An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2012 Population Association of America meetings in San Francisco, CA. We are grateful to Aaron Gullickson for helpful comments and advice.

  • Citation: Schwartz, Christine R., Zhen Zeng, and Yu Xie. 2016. “Marrying Up by Marrying Down: Status Exchange between Social Origin and Education in the United States.” Sociological Science 3: 1003-1027.
  • Received: September 30, 2016
  • Accepted: October 9, 2016
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Stephen Morgan
  • DOI: 10.15195/v3.a44

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