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NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Is There a Male Breadwinner Norm? The Hazards of Inferring Preferences from Marriage Market Outcomes

Ariel J. Binder, David Lam

NBER Working Paper No. 24907
Issued in August 2018, Revised in June 2019
NBER Program(s):Development Economics Program, Labor Studies Program

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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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24907

 
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