No, Online Dating Is Not Increasing Income Inequality

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Everyone knows income inequality is on the rise.
The question is why.

One literally sexy explanation that’s been thrown around for a while is that the rise of “assortative mating” — choosing to date someone with similar interests or educational backgrounds, whatever their religious or ethnic upbringings — has produced greater inequality.

In a new blog post, Federal Appeals Court Judge and economics writer Richard Posner adds a new wrinkle to this theory: online dating may be accelerating this alleged trend.

“One possibility is that, because of increased assortative mating as a result of declining discrimination and of the efficiency of online search for potential mates, there are greater differences in IQ across families than there used to be…The combination of assortative mating with higher returns to IQ could have dramatic effects on relative mobility if the effect was to insulate to a significant degree a prosperous family’s children from economic risk.”

But research has already shown more selective mating isn’t having much of an impact on income inequality, if online dating has accelerated selectivity.

In a 2008 study co-authored by Yale sociologist Richard Breen, assortative mating was indeed found to be increasing, but has “not [contributed] in any way to increased earnings differences between households in the United States.”

Other sociological factors are to blame, he writes:

“An increase in the share of households without a working man and the growing share of Hispanic and Other households have both tended to increase inequality, and this seems to have occurred because they led to a growth in the share of low earnings households.”

If anything, selective dating may provide a slight net benefit to income inequality, if the number of couples with greater incomes as a per cent of the population is increasing:

“Conversely, the growth in educational assortative partnership had the opposite effect, tending to generate a reduction in inequality for exactly the opposite reason: it led to higher earning households increasing their share of the population.”

If we want to find the sources of income inequality, we should probably look beyond OK Cupid.

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