Monday, May 14, 2007

Does social class determine marriage? Steve Sailer has put forward the idea that "class is about who your descendants are likely to marry." But just how meaningful is any definition of class is contemporary American society? Below, I present Pearson correlations between your father's occupational prestige when you were 16, yours now, and your spouse's. (It would be nice to look at your spouse's father's occupational prestige, but the GSS doesn't have it):

Pearson correlation coefficients

Father-respondent .31
Spouse-respondent .39
Father-spouse .27

These connections are pretty weak. The one that most directly measures your family's class with that of your spouse's is the last one listed, and it is only .27. If this correlation were not reduced by the influence of controls in a multivariate analysis, then your family's class explains about 10% of your spouse's class.

It is possible that a direct measure of your spouse's father's class might be more highly correlated with your own father's, but it seems doubtful when these numbers show that there isn't much of a correlation between your father's class and your own as an adult. The fluidity and individualism of American society makes the idea of class less meaningful.


Anonymous said...

Ron, How did you decide to equate occupational status with social class?

If my father is a venture capitalist and my spouse is a full-time volunteer at the art museum and the opera (i.e. unemployed), you have a quantifiable correlation to play with, but you don't have a very complex picture of social class.

I wonder, too, how the GSS measures occupational status?

Education level is often used as one strong correlate with class, as is the wealth that one has amassed.

Occupational status does, of course matter, but seems to matter less when we're talking about people who don't have to work for a living because they're inherited a great deal or who, because of shifts in the economy, are now working in lower-status computer sales in Big Box store rather than working as an IT manager, as one did for 15 years before being laid off.

Ron Guhname said...

Anon: I followed Weber in seeing occupational prestige as one important dimension of social stratification (power and privilege being the other two). Education is certainly important--I'll post an analysis of it. The examples you give are valid--the GSS (and my quick analyses) usually paint with a broad brush.