The Rise of Hypogamy and its Consequences for Family Life

Project Lead: Nadia Steiber
Team: Rudolf Winter-Ebmer
Duration: January 2022 – June 2025
Funding: FWF Austrian Science Fund

Socio-demographic trends show a rising share of heterosexual couples in which the woman is more educated than the man — a constellation called ‘hypogamy’ in the literature. The secular rise of hypogamy is likely to have profound consequences for demographic and economic behaviors, yet to date, empirical research on its consequences is scarce. This project is designed to provide novel evidence about how the changing educational composition of couples has changed the bargaining logic within couples and consequently decision-making with regard to having children and the gender division of labor. On top of education, we investigate earnings as core dimensions of socioeconomic status (SES) pairings within couples.

Hypotheses / research questions / objectives: The main objective is to provide an in-depth analysis of the impact of SES-pairings in couples on power dynamics and decision-making, drawing on economic bargaining models while also accounting for partners’ dispositions. To date, it is still unclear, if women who partner up with less educated men tend to be more or less gender egalitarian compared to women with equally educated partners. Available research aimed at establishing the impact of SES-pairings on family outcomes such as fertility and parental employment is scant, in particular knowledge about the independent effect of SES-inconsistencies within couples is very limited.

Approach / methods: The project draws on high-quality register data that contain a full sample of all 1st births that occurred in Austria in the time period 1990-2007 and that allow tracking more than half a million couples from the birth of their 1st child throughout childrearing. Based on information on the partners’ absolute and relative education and earnings before childbearing, we investigate the role of SES-pairings in shaping fertility and parents’ long-term employment and earnings trajectories. We apply a set of advanced statistical techniques to model the impact of SES-pairings and to identify independent and causal effects of hypogamy, while accounting for unobserved heterogeneity.