Assortative mating

by L

The Marriages of Power Couples Reinforce Income Inequality

We Totebaggers may be examples of assortative mating – what are our thoughts?

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154 thoughts on “Assortative mating

  1. Charles Murray talked about that quite a bit in his book “Coming Apart”. It all makes sense but not sure there’s anything one can do about it. People rarely marry their high school sweethearts anymore (which frankly is probably a good thing) – they marry the person they meet in college/grad school/early jobs in their 20s because that is who they have more in common with.

    I grew up in a small town and there are quite a few people that stayed – either didn’t go to college or went to mediocre ones and came back. There are few people that went to really good colleges that went back home because there are not a lot of professional type jobs there. So for the people that stayed I see that they married each other but the waitresses/hair stylists tended to marry the landscapers and the teachers/doctors tended to marry other teachers/doctors.

  2. I don’t think it is shocking that people marry those who are around them when they are in their 20s/30s. Since every good Totebagger has to go to college and then probably some grad school now, it makes sense that most people marry someone they met while in school or right after.

    However, I would probably still be working had I married either my high school or college boyfriend. Neither has the kind of job that could support a SAH spouse.

  3. There’s maybe more assortive (my browser changes that to “assertive,” and when I override it, it angrily underlines “assortive” in red) mating going on, but its effects become more pronounced with both a higher proportion of dual-earning couples at one end, and a higher proportion of births to absent fathers at the other end. In other words, Pete Campbell marrying Trudie was assortive mating, and with her education, she would presumably offer some extra advantages on the parenting front, but the difference would be limited. Now if she’s earning an income comparable to Pete’s, it’s the same assortive mating, but its effects compared to the working-class family, at least financially, are doubled. Go a step further and compare it to a working-class single mother with no father in the picture, and the difference is quadrupled.

    And as I’ve predicted before, with retirement shifting to defined contribution, this effect would be even further magnified as time goes on, where the upper 20% of retirees, rather than living mostly on a shared-risk pension system, are now self-insuring and passing the principal on down. You see this effect already with the prevalence of the most expensive neighborhoods, and fancy private schools, often being achievable only with discreet support from grandparents.

  4. Is “Duh” a good response? It was apparent to me as a freshman in high school that I did not want to marry someone from my town, with a few exceptions who have since also moved away. My high school biology teacher was lamenting the pregnancy rate to me after class (he also covered sex ed, and 72 girls gave birth that year) and I commented, “But lots of these girls aren’t comfortable being alone. I am comfortable with my independence.” and he looked at me and said, “WCE, the selection of men for you will improve in college or graduate school. Be patient.”

  5. So why are we acting as if this is a surprise or a new thing? Historically, everyone married within their class. Cinderella and “Pride & Prejudice” are compelling stories largely because they represent unattainable fantasies.

    I would argue that the “lawyer marrying his secretary/doctor marrying his nurse” era was the exception to the rule, not the baseline against which our current era should be measured. Those results reflect a specific area in which MC women were allowed to work outside the home in paying jobs, but were not yet allowed themselves to be the lawyer or the doctor. I also suspect that many of the couples from that era did, in fact, involve social and intellectual “equals,” i.e., the income disparities were attributable to the different kinds of positions each gender was “allowed” to hold rather than reflecting differing levels of innate ability or intelligence. Anecdata: both of my grandparents married within their classes, even though only my grandfathers worked outside the home (in fact, of all of my grandparents, only my grandma had any college).

    I do think that there is a fundamental difference today — but one that represents an improvement. Back in the days of the landed gentry, the only way up was to marry into money. There was a small MC (largely the merchant class); most people were comparatively poor. In that world, assortative mating means that the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor across generations. I think we have much better opportunities now for people to move between classes through education and effort and ability. And the impacts are far less likely to be generational — today’s high-earners can provide a head start for their kids, but the kids will then have to carry the ball themselves, because the parents won’t be able to provide a fortune or a dowry sufficient to support their progeny in perpetuity.

  6. I want to echo that Murray’s Coming Apart is must-reading for those interested in the last two threads. (If anyone’s interested, I have a [readable] journal article that compares/contrasts CA with Harrington’s classic book on poverty.)

  7. “today’s high-earners can provide a head start for their kids, but the kids will then have to carry the ball themselves, because the parents won’t be able to provide a fortune or a dowry sufficient to support their progeny in perpetuity.”

    Says who? If you have two doctors making $250k each, and these sorts of couples rarely have more than two kids, if that, it’s not very difficult to amass a fortune that could, theoretically, cover living expenses for their kids in perpetuity. More likely, this will take the form of fully funding their kid’s undergrad and grad schools, buying the first condo, buying or helping to buy the house in the right neighborhood (only because the right school district is so important, of course), etc., etc.

    They might not call it a dowry or a fortune, but the distinction is in name only.

  8. I think LfB is correct in that in the 40s/50s/60s marriages were more likely to be of intellectual equals even if the mom stayed at home. I remember my mother telling me that her mother got into college but wasn’t allowed to go. She married my grandfather (a dentist) around 20 I think.

    My high school boyfriend (who I dated from 15 to 20) is a chiropractor (or what DH calls a “fake doctor”) and he married a girl we went to high school with who did go to a mediocre college (not entirely sure she graduated) but then just worked as a waitress/make up artist or something of that sort. She stays at home with their huge amount of kids and he seems like he’s doing pretty well judging by the pictures of the house they just built. He was reasonably smart, not sure about her, but they seem pretty happy.

  9. “Charles Murray talked about that quite a bit in his book “Coming Apart”. It all makes sense but not sure there’s anything one can do about it.”

    Maybe find some magic way to get low- and middle-income parents to marry. As mentioned, the rising trend of single parenthood among lower classes exacerbates the income inequality we see today.

  10. I wonder what the author of your graph thinks the relevance of the secularism stats is, CoC.

    Oh, never mind, I just realized it’s from Coming Apart, so secularism is probably representing Social Decay.

  11. “I wonder what the author of your graph thinks the relevance of the secularism stats is, CoC.”

    Maybe because the church, as an institution, at one point took on the task of encouraging “low- and middle-income parents to marry.”

  12. I enjoyed Murray’s book but I remember his suggestions for solutions to the problem seemed a bit weak. I may not be remembering correctly because I read the book a few years ago, but I thought his suggestion was that the upper class needed to reach out to the lower class and mentor them and encourage them to marry or something of that sort. Maybe we just need the mayor of Worcester to come in and provide counseling for the lower class on careers and relationships.:)

  13. “the upper class needed to reach out to the lower class and mentor them and encourage them to marry or something of that sort”

    In a way, we already do that to promote behaviors of far more dubious value, like breastfeeding or recycling. Would it be that much of a leap to encourage something that clearly has far greater benefits to society and children?

  14. I agree that Murray’s book had some weak suggestions. There is also a lack of suggestions regarding the problem of marrying within your own class. Unless professionals stop marrying others with similar education, values, and earning potential, we are not going to solve the inequality problem.

  15. Would it be that much of a leap to encourage something that clearly has far greater benefits to society and children?

    What if these women, who want to have children, are making the right choice to stay single. Let me introduce the concept of the zero marginal product husband. The addition of a husband doesn’t add any value to the situation from the perspective of these women. Are they wrong?

  16. Rhett – You’re getting ahead of yourself. The wrong choice was reproducing with them in the first place.

    I’m just saying that if Michelle Obama can look at a problem like childhood obesity and go on Ellen and Today to promote “Let’s Move,” I don’t see how it’s so shocking to suggest that maybe she could also do something targeted at young parents or potential parents like “Let’s Get Married First.” And her own life story would serve as a great example of a family that was close to the margins, but with the strong support of two parents, she did pretty well for herself.

  17. The wrong choice was reproducing with them in the first place.

    They want to have kids and the available sperm donors are all of equally poor quality.

  18. “They want to have kids and the available sperm donors are all of equally poor quality.”

    That’s highly racist and offensive.

  19. “Would you have married your wife if she was a 2?”

    If she had been pregnant with my child, yes.

  20. I think I missed a step. How is that racist? I thought we were discussing low income/high school dropout women having kids out of wedlock. That covers all races.

  21. “his suggestions for solutions to the problem seemed a bit weak.”

    I believe it was on TOS that there was a discussion about efforts to create SES-diverse neighborhoods. One of the potential benefits cited was the modeling of nuclear families, and the likely example they would set of higher SES correlating with stable 2-parent families.

  22. I don’t know how many people could be nudged to become better fathers, and preferably to marry the mothers of their children, but I don’t see how it can hurt. Like I said, if we’re willing to promote other behaviors, this seems like an easy decision. I think some could be nudged or shamed, as necessary. I still think about my tree guy’s son, another one who sits around doing nothing and hardly ever sees his young daughter. There has to be a group that’s sufficiently susceptible to the pressure of a certain message, whether that’s from Michelle Obama or the pastor, to get off your ass and support your family and be involved with your kids where it could make some difference.

    I don’t see anyone other than Murray offering anything better.

  23. Today, we rightfully reject the idea of eugenics as repugnant, yet we are conducting our own experiments in mating, without much careful thought as to where they will lead.

    WTF? The author sees no difference between individuals making free choices and government-imposed sterilization/forced breeding/forced abortion/forced genetic manipulation?

  24. I am not convinced that marriages are any more class-based now than they were in the past. Economic class was always a powerful stratifier of human relationships. Just read a Jane Austen novel for a reminder of how class influenced everyone’s marriage prospects in the past. Even back when future bankers were marrying their high school sweethearts, in most cases the high school sweetheart would have been a debutante from a good family, and in the South at least, they might have met at cotillion.

  25. Marriage as a benefit to kids only works if both the parents are committed to pulling their weight. Between the partners both financial and emotional support has to flow to the kids. I know quite a few college educated women married to men, who it turned out did not want to work nor did they want the responsibility of being the stay at home parent, so divorce followed. The women are single mothers but are middle class and above due to their income.

  26. In my part of the country, stable two parent families tend to live in particular areas due to schools and zoning. In the U.S., construction techniques for affordable housing seldom include the noiseproofing that is standard in, say, Seoul high rises. And whether they use them or not, many middle class families at least think they want yards for children to play in.

    From what I read about the search for “good schools” in urban areas, it doesn’t appear that most upper middle class people want to live in SES-diverse neighborhoods.

  27. And all my family anecdata supports LfB’s point that it was ever thus. My grandmothers and mother may not have worked outside the home, but they were from the same social class as their husbands and were in two cases college graduates.

  28. Why are men disproportionately unwilling to pull their weight in families? Or do you disagree with the hypothesis? My Dad (conservative rural Republican) says “The government has become the husband.”

  29. but I don’t see how it can hurt…. I still think about my tree guy’s son, another one who sits around doing nothing and hardly ever sees his young daughter.

    It would hurt if we was a negative product husband. Your approaching this as if his marrying his daughter’s mother would result in another parent to share duties with and help bring in income. But, for many women, a husband would be just be another child to raise, another mouth to feed, etc.

  30. “That’s highly racist and offensive.”

    I can see offensive, perhaps, but racist? In fact, I think it exactly describes the situation of my DH’s niece (Caucasian), who now as 3 kids and a babydad who pretty much defines zero marginal product dad. In her working class world, there were not a lot of options, and she did want and loves those kids.

  31. “it’s not very difficult to amass a fortune that could, theoretically, cover living expenses for their kids in perpetuity.”

    If we — or they — want to live like MMM, sure; otherwise, not so much. We have one household with two good incomes, and y’all know I save. And yet by our estimated retirement date, our investments will not produce anywhere near 100% of our current incomes. Assuming we live on the income and don’t touch the capital, when we die, the estate gets divided between the two kids, each of whom may marry and have their own kids. So now you have half of our income at retirement supporting 2-4 people. Assuming a bunch of slackers, at best that parental support is gone by the time our kids kick it, and the grandkids are back at square 1.

    Which is precisely why our segment of society pays for our kids’ educations, helps them buy houses in the “right” school district, covers the grandkids’ private schools, etc. — because we *can’t* support them in perpetuity. The best hope for generational security is to give the kids and grandkids the tools to succeed on their own.

  32. “I would argue that the “lawyer marrying his secretary/doctor marrying his nurse” era was the exception to the rule, not the baseline against which our current era should be measured. Those results reflect a specific area in which MC women were allowed to work outside the home in paying jobs, but were not yet allowed themselves to be the lawyer or the doctor. I also suspect that many of the couples from that era did, in fact, involve social and intellectual “equals,””

    ITA, and once again cite my Perry Mason/Della Street example. She was clearly his intellectual equal, and in today’s world would be another lawyer, not his secretary.

    OTOH, I’ve heard that (male) doctor/(female) nurse marriages, while not as common (many more male doctors marrying female doctors), are still not uncommon. I suspect that such marriages are one way in which someone could make a jump into a higher SES.

  33. Are we convinced men are disproportionately unwilling to pull their weight in families? I know of a number of women who are. Either things don’t get done (resulting in divorce) or the wife’s mother does everything from raising the kids to cleaning the house and doing laundry. Also, contributing financially when needed rather than the wife get a job. I don’t see this as limited to men – that just seems to get discussed more.

  34. I think it’s kids who are disproportionately unwilling to pull their weight in families.

    (Although my daughter did cook dinner the other night.)

  35. “WTF? The author sees no difference between individuals making free choices and government-imposed sterilization/forced breeding/forced abortion/forced genetic manipulation?”

    Rocky, he’s an economist. The idea that human beings would do *anything* without “careful thought as to where they will lead” just does. not. compute.

  36. WCE said “Why are men disproportionately unwilling to pull their weight in families?”

    This is actually a worldwide phenomenon, and one of the reasons why foreign aid groups increasingly focus on women. Research has found that direct aid given to men often ends up purchasing alcohol or cigarettes, whereas aid given to women ends up going to the kids.

    Here is an article that discusses this. A quote “WHY DO MICROFINANCE organizations usually focus their assistance on women? And why does everyone benefit when women enter the work force and bring home regular pay checks? One reason involves the dirty little secret of global poverty: some of the most wretched suffering is caused not just by low incomes but also by unwise spending by the poor — especially by men.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/magazine/23Women-t.html

  37. I too did not find Rhett’s statement racist, but maybe Milo thought so because he was imagining single black moms?

    Anyway, I don’t subscribe to the idea that increased marrying within your class is necessarily leading to income inequality at higher rates. People have married always, with exceptions, married within their class. Was there ever really a period where it was not so? Income inequality remains because of other factors. For the most part, those who have enough ambition and willingness to work hard, have always been able to rise above their level eventually entering the middle class, whatever the marriage prospects.

  38. MBT, I’m interested in childrearing in hunter-gatherer societies and the person who brings in far more calories than she consumes is the Grandma, usually the maternal Grandma.

    Several years ago, one of my African American colleagues was considering having a child with the expectation that her Mom would move out to help her raise her child(ren). I didn’t ask her if she had any plans for who the father would be, figuring it was none of my business, but she didn’t assume he’d be around for childrearing.

  39. I was joking about the racist/offensive comment. My point was that I don’t quite accept that all hope is lost for most of the men.

  40. “I believe it was on TOS that there was a discussion about efforts to create SES-diverse neighborhoods. One of the potential benefits cited was the modeling of nuclear families, and the likely example they would set of higher SES correlating with stable 2-parent families.”

    That doesn’t work so well with your oft-stated goal to closely control your kids’ peer groups.

  41. In my extended family in the home country a “job” was created by the family for guys who wouldn’t take responsibility. They would have to go to the shop every day but there was always a trusted manager, other brothers, their father to actually run things. They showed up, chatted with the customers, had their friends come over, took long lunches and went home at quitting time. My uncle had this sort of set up for years.

  42. Louise, farm families often operated that way as well. My grandfather was one of six brothers (the youngest by 10 years) and the fact that they loaned to one another to buy land allowed him to marry at a younger age than they did. My great-grandparents immigrated and the older brothers (10-20 years older than my grandfather) had to support themselves. My grandfather benefited from their generosity, because a bank wouldn’t have lent to him during the Depression.

  43. It’s difficult to imagine policy “solutions” here– or even policies that would make things much better.
    But two things come to mind: 1.) welfare reform (as per the previous thread); there’s more to life than financial incentives, but policy has subsidized/encouraged the formation of single-parent households among the middle and lower income classes; 2.) decoupling government K-12 schools from house choices– again, through something like charters, vouchers, etc.

  44. I think it’s kids who are disproportionately unwilling to pull their weight in families.

    Word.

  45. Murray? He’s a political scientist by training– and by writing, seems like a cross between a sociologist and an economist.

    Eugenics? It’s certainly a policy thing, but it’s also a voluntary thing as well (e.g., in the practice of abortion, esp. with gender-based abortion decisions).

    In any case, an economist should be one of the first people to distinguish between degrees of coercion vs. voluntary activity.

  46. Rhett, I think the older couple are the actual mortgagors for both mortgages, the one on their house and the one on the son’s house, in which case her suggestion that they gift him the money annually and let him learn to pay his own bills is not practical. Weird situation.

  47. There was a thread on Corporette maybe last year where many of the single women talked about their reluctance to “marry down” – the lawyers or doctors or finance professionals not wanting to marry anyone who was, say, a plumber or an HVAC guy. I think that reluctance also plays a part at the margins.

  48. HM – they did say “our son’s” mortgage, but it’s unclear how the son would have qualified for that mortgage if the parents are paying it plus his household expenses – are they also on the mortgage and/or the deed?

  49. L, I absolutely agree, but I think that’s changing for the under-40 crowd. I didn’t imagine I could be the breadwinner and marry someone with quirky but unremunerative interests. The women physicians I know/have known are mostly single or married to men with such interests, and it seems to work well.

  50. I don’t think DH’s niece is a single mom because she is reluctant to marry down. She is down – she never graduated from college (I think she did a semester at a CC) and works in a deadend office job. The pickings in her social group are slim. Babydad may be the best of the lot – while he contributes little, he has stuck around at the fringes of our family for 13 years now, and on occasion, “babysits” his own kids, or helps out with unskilled manual labor for BIL’s business. He has substance abuse problems, though, which is why the niece won’t marry him or even let him drive the kids around.

  51. They also say “we just bought a house for our son” and the question is “How should we manage these mortgages?” That, and the lack of any consideration of what the son might want to do, makes it sound like they’re the mortgagors.

  52. I know a bunch of high powered women with kids who married down. Their husbands largely do not work, but are good at being stay at home parents. And they did all get married. My SIL falls into that category, as does several good friends – a well known computer science researcher, a friend with a major orthopedic practice, and a couple of lawyers.

  53. Rhett – There’s no easy answer to that mortgage question, which is really a question of how much money to give. On one hand, I can totally see the columnist’s argument about pushing them to establish their own financial independence. On the other, a plane crashing with both parents onboard tomorrow means that the son is immediately $4.5M in the black.

    “I don’t think DH’s niece is a single mom because she is reluctant to marry down. She is down ”

    Mooshi always has a blunt way with words.

  54. Maybe we have different definitions of “down”. Physician/PhD acquaintances I’m thinking of are/have been married to a substance abuse counselor, a tall ship sailing enthusiast/SAHD, an IT consultant and a graphic designer/artist. But because I wouldn’t consider this “marrying down” for a man, I don’t consider it “marrying down” for a woman. These women just chose men with less demanding/remunerative careers.

  55. These women just chose men with less demanding/remunerative careers.

    That’s pretty much the definition of down in this context.

  56. DD2 the elite college grad govt paralegal is dating (will wonders never cease) a JMU grad, construction manager, who lives in his own paid for modest house given to him by his retired military father. They are perfectly matched by current income and job status. and are compatibly quirky. By our extended family’s standards (not mine, it is huge that she is even in a relationship and it appears that he can carry his own bags), she might be considered to be dating “down”. He might be considered by his family to be “settling” for a left-wing ethnic after a broken engagement several years ago. I can recall when SIL married at 39 everybody wanted her not to do it because she was “settling”, and the guy was a same ethnicity engineer to her schoolteacher, just dull and stubborn.

    On the mortgage question, I read it like HM and the columnist answered too quickly. They should keep the mortgages for the tax deductions – when RMDs on those IRAs and 401ks kick it, it will be at 120K per year or more.

  57. I can recall when SIL married at 39 everybody wanted her not to do it because she was “settling”, and the guy was a same ethnicity engineer to her schoolteacher, just dull and stubborn.

    That’s so cruel, mean and judgey.

  58. I know. The one they liked from whom she was somewhat on the rebound was a dentist. But she could never win – even the dentist would have paled next to the college professor from a cultured family her wastrel sister landed.

  59. I associate “assortative marriage” with autism and Asperger’s. Some neuroscientists think that the recent trend toward more closely-matched couples (in terms of interests and personalities, not income) explains part of the rise in diagnoses among children: parents who are both near the spectrum themselves are more likely to produce children on the spectrum.

    On another note, I think WCE’s friends highlight the distinction between income class and social class.

    For spouses/partners, which disparity do you would be most problematic for the union?
    -IQ
    -Income
    -Social class

    I think a difference of more than a standard deviation in IQ would be the most problematic, but I’m not sure how I would define a standard deviation in income or social class (though there must be numbers for income).

    For society as a whole, though, having people sort themselves by IQ poses problems for the next generation, and I think in a slightly different way than sorting by income or social class, which can vary more over a lifetime.

  60. In my extended family they had to stop being picky about marrying up/down as several parties are now approaching their mid thirties. The thinking now, is that it is better to have a companion when the parents are gone than have no one at all. Families have grown smaller so, there may be no siblings or only one sibling.

  61. “having people sort themselves by IQ poses problems for the next generation”

    Back in my day, our schools were homogeneously grouped. I’m thinking that the heterogeneous grouping in public schools today would increase the likelihood of mixed-IQ marriages.

  62. “everybody wanted her not to do it because she was “settling”, and the guy was a same ethnicity engineer to her schoolteacher, just dull and stubborn.”

    What were they thinking??? As has been discussed here before, engineers are great marriage material.

    Sounds to me more like she was holding out until she found an engineer.

  63. Sky, I would say IQ, then social class, then income. But because of the bell curve distribution, for most people being within a standard deviation in IQ of anyone you meet is the usual case, so they’re going to be more focused on other qualities. Social class comes into play mainly because common expectations are helpful on issues from vacation habits to child discipline to relationship with extended family.

  64. Re Rhett’s link about the retired couple with two mortgages, it sounds like they’re getting almost 9% return on their taxable accounts ($8k/mo on a little more than $1.1M), and t hey have have 2.6% mortgage. Why pay off the mortgage when their return is so much better?

    I do like her approach on the HH expenses of not paying them directly.

  65. The risk of divorce is higher among marriages where the woman married “down”, but less so in cases where the husband’s career is a prestigious one.

    “I’m thinking that the heterogeneous grouping in public schools today would increase the likelihood of mixed-IQ marriages.”

    I don’t think so because by high school students are usually grouped by proficiency. I’ve seen social groups sort themselves out by AP vs non-AP, for example.

  66. Finn – They’re drawing down the taxable account at that rate, they didn’t say that’s the return that they’re getting. They’re probably comfortable drawing the $1M account at that rate because there’s $3M in the retirement accounts that they haven’t yet touched.

  67. Finn,

    I assumed the $8k was their draw on the entire $4.4 million balance, they are just choosing to take it out of the taxable account. Presumably for tax reasons i.e paying 15% cap gains vs. income tax rates on the (non-ROTH) IRA distributions.

  68. “it doesn’t appear that most upper middle class people want to live in SES-diverse neighborhoods.”

    “That doesn’t work so well with your oft-stated goal to closely control your kids’ peer groups.”

    Yeah, that was the big problem with that theory. I think I read somewhere of some cases in which kids in low SES families that had moved into higher SES neighborhoods through subsidies did better than their peers in low SES neighborhoods, and the thinking was that they benefited from the examples they saw, including stable 2-parent families. So the thought was tp extrapolate that, but that doesn’t seem likely given the validity of the above observations.

    But in this light it does make sense that many couples will stretch themselves to move into more upscale neighborhoods.

  69. “Sky, I would say IQ, then social class, then income.”

    There’s always the straightforward, upfront warning option:

    Before you take another step, there’s something you should know
    About the years ahead and how they’ll be
    You’ll be living in a world where roses hardly ever grow
    ‘Cause all I have to offer you is me

    There’ll be no mansion waiting on the hill with crystal chandeliers
    And there’ll be no fancy clothes for you to wear
    Everything I have is standing here in front of you to see
    All I have to offer you is me

    Sweetheart I’ll give you all my love in every way I can
    But make sure that’s what you want while you’re still free
    The only gold I have for you is in this wedding band
    ‘Cause all I have to offer you is me

    There’ll be no mansion…

  70. “decoupling government K-12 schools from house choices– again, through something like charters, vouchers, etc.”

    Although some states and school districts offer these alternatives to standard public schools, many low SES parents seem to be very reluctant to take advantage of them, even if their neighborhood schools are failing. It takes some effort and initiative to seek out and enroll your kids in these programs; parents who are struggling with basic life skills don’t usually move their kids from the default school assignment.

    And though the nytimes author seems to be frowning on assortive mating, it is unlikely that he is willing to take one for the team by marrying a high school dropout.

  71. I thought about submitting this article on rural schools for discussion, but it is essentially this conversation. Basically, kids at the same low socioeconomic level statistically do much better in rural schools than they do in urban ones, apparently because of the community values.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/01/americas-rural-schools/422586/

    I think IQ, social class and income are all threshold variables. Marrying within 1 SD is probably good for the +/- 2 SD range, but the 0.01% can marry within the top 5%, generally. At a certain point, other characteristics become more important than higher IQ, social class or income.

  72. ” It takes some effort and initiative to seek out and enroll your kids in these programs”

    One of the Freakonomics articles claimed to have evaluated this situation, and broke it down by three groups. There was a lottery system for getting into the charter school, but you had to ask for it. One group asked, won the lottery, and attended. A second group asked but had to stay at the bad school. The third group never asked.

    The Freakonomics guys found that there was basically no difference in outcomes between the kids who attended the charter school and those whose parents ASKED for them to attend but were rejected. You don’t have to come from a family that can send you to a better school; you just need a family that WANTS to send you to a better school. Or so they claimed.

  73. “People rarely marry their high school sweethearts anymore (which frankly is probably a good thing)”

    It depends on the HS.

    I’ve met, through my kids, a number of couples in which both are grads of my kids’ school, which is an example of assortative mating. OTOH, some of those couples were not HS sweethearts, but became couples after HS.

  74. “basically no difference in outcomes between the kids who attended the charter school and those whose parents ASKED for them to attend but were rejected.”

    This reminds me of the study I’ve read about that concluded that kids who were accepted to HSS but didn’t attend did just as well as those who did, and thus attributed the success of the HSS grads largely to the grads themselves rather than the schools.

    The Freakonomics conclusion makes sense; doing well in school is largely dependent on growing up in a household that values education.

  75. A significant piece of Murray’s case is that people sort within colleges differently than back in the day. He has some amazing data on the demographics of Ivy League students then (not all that different) vs. now. In particular, because it was much more difficult to get around (before the deregulation of the late 1970s / early 1980s), really good students usually stayed local rather than going to elite schools. This adds to whatever genetic and environmental effects are in play.

  76. “some of those couples were not HS sweethearts, but became couples after HS.”

    this describes my parents, they attended the same HS but didn’t date until college

  77. Finn, I think you’re only half-right. Based on studies of adopted and biological children raised in the same household, I think many/most children can get into the “average” range of academic achievement by growing up in a household that values education. Then genetics becomes the primary factor. I have two well-educated, successful mom friends who grew up in terrible circumstances. (for one, Dad was alcoholic who lived in another state, Mom left for weeks at a time to return to Ireland; for the other, her parents left her for a year on a commune where no one bothered to feed her or sign her up for elementary school)

    My usual threshold variable argument is that people wind up in Quadrant 4 due to genetics AND family environment.

  78. WCE, I’m guessing there are some kids who make in into Q4 without a good family environment. Those are the ones gifted with not just a high IQ, but also with determination to succeed, self-discipline, and grit.

  79. The Freakonomics guys found that there was basically no difference in outcomes between the kids who attended the charter school and those whose parents ASKED for them to attend but were rejected.

    Which would tend to indicate that the schools aren’t really failing. They are doing as well as can be expected given the quality of the inputs.

  80. Finn, by Quadrant 4, I meant low family background/low genetic endowment. Maybe I mean Quadrant 1.

  81. Well, the stock market’s movements have been interesting of late.

    No changes in plans over here, of course, stocks are on sale, blah blah blah.

  82. there was basically no difference in outcomes between the kids who attended the charter school and those whose parents ASKED for them to attend but were rejected.

    By that logic, if you switched houses, the kids who grew up here:

    http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/153-Great-Plain-Ave_Wellesley_MA_02482_M49002-84969?ex=MA583465925

    Would end up doing just as well had they grown up here:

    http://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/32-Checkerberry-Ln_Framingham_MA_01702_M40273-95718

    Maybe even better, despite the schools in Wellesley being perceived as much much better.

  83. “The wrong choice was reproducing with them in the first place.”

    This misguided idea came up on another thread along the lines of “why are these women having so many children?”

    They are having unprotected sex and getting pregnant. That is different than choosing to reproduce. As Jennifer Lawrence recently said, “I am a successful woman who has not had a pregnancy.”

  84. In that posted article from the Atlantic on the Fentress Co schools, I can’t see where it says that rural schools do better than urban ones. Am I missing something? I had looked at this originally, because my sense of rural schools in Appalachia is that they are not successful at all – but this county is on the outskirts of Appalachia. But the article mainly seems to be about efforts in that one county.

  85. They are having unprotected sex and getting pregnant

    The conclusion was they are having children because they want them. These children aren’t accidents.

  86. Rhett – That’s been my argument for some time.

    Tangentially related…I’m currently listening to The Middle Class Millionaire. I fill up my audiobook queue with very little forethought or analysis, and this book wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s almost, but not quite the opposite of Millionaire Next Door. This guy’s MC millionaires are not necessarily the hardscrabble blue collar types drinking generic scotch while their septic pumping businesses rake in the cash; rather, they’re ambitious professionals who conspicuously and unapologetically deploy their money in very targeted ways–on concierge physicians, and on tearing down old houses in affluent inner suburbs so that they can rebuild McMansions but still exercise their “middle class values.” It takes him a tedious seven or eight chapters to establish those last few sentences.

    Interestingly, he finds some notable distinctions between MC millionaires (1-10M net worth) and the higher-tiered rich: priority placed on kids’ education, name recognition of the colleges they attend, etc. In fact, a much higher percentage of MC millionaires, compared to the higher rich, agree with the statement that the prestige level of their kid’s college is a reflection of their own success. (Perhaps the super rich feel that they already have more to be proud of, regardless of what their kids do.) Throughout most of the book, any of us would have said “He’s talking about Totebaggers!!” His theories did line up pretty well with what this blog tends to think about itself. Anyway, that’s the group, he claims, are the ones obsessed with living in Wellesley.

  87. “They are having unprotected sex and getting pregnant. That is different than choosing to reproduce.”

    DW and I have known a number of couples who, for some reason, when they’re expecting a baby, insist on emphasizing “and we weren’t even trying!” As I’ve said then, if you’re having unprotected sex, you’re trying. The mechanics are the same.

  88. “That’s been my argument for some time. ”

    This was in regard to the real estate dichotomy.

  89. “His theories did line up pretty well with what this blog tends to think about itself.”

    I should revise this. It lines up with how this blog tends to think about the stereotypical Totebagger, even though nobody here would consider him or herself to completely fit the actual stereotype.

  90. on concierge physicians

    Is that really a thing? I’ve looked a couple up and they all have very modest CVs. I can’t help but think they’re really just Dr. Feelgoods willing to be liberal with a prescription pad for a price.

  91. Rhett, I wish! DH’s doc is concierge. He does spend a lot of time with DH reviewing tests, suggesting supplements to try, encouraging exercise, etc. I don’t know if it’s worth it but DH likes him. And that’s important because other he won’t go at all.

  92. “concierge physicians
    Is that really a thing?”

    Yes, it is. Some background info:
    http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303471004579165470633112630
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/johngoodman/2014/08/28/everyone-should-have-a-concierge-doctor/

    I’ve thought that high-deductible insurance, combined with HSAs and direct-pay medical services like concierge physicians or walk-in clinics that don’t take insurance, could be one way to deliver medical care for less, as the care providers would not have the expenses of dealing with insurance.

  93. The purpose of the conciegre physician is to lower his/her patient population and those left pay extra to have that “special” relationship. In the case of my parent’s pcp, he went from having between 3000 to 5000 patients to about 600. Therefore, he spends a great deal of time with them on preventivie care and quality of life issues. They also have direct access to him via his personal cell phone – never an oncall doctor who they don’t know or an answering service.

    Neither of my parents like going to the doctor but really liked him so it is worth it to them to have his undivided attention. We love it as my parents get more complex issues and deal with other specialists, he really holds their hand through the process. They’ve granted my sister and I authroity to discuss their health with him so it has been especially helpful when trying to get information. We call him and have him talk to other physicians and then get the complete picture.

    This doctor was the pcp for both my parent’s and all three of us kids. They chose to pay the price but none of us kids did. However, if you can afford it and have several medical conditions, it may be worth the price.

  94. My PCP when I first moved to Atlanta went the concierge route and stopped taking insurance. He was older and I think he was doing that before he retired. We just moved to another Dr. in the same practice since we were in our 20s with no issues.

  95. @Rhett – IIRC, a lot of Framingham is quite nice and I wouldn’t doubt that a kid from a Totebaggy family would do quite well. However, due to the reputation of the schools compared to the other other towns nearby, Totebaggy types want to move to Natick, Sudbury, Wayland etc. The issue there is the home prices shoot way up in these towns even though distance wise and feel wise they are all very close and similar. I had a colleague who always said that she lived in Natick on the Wellesley line. Now, either you live in Natick or in Wellesly but can’t live in both places at the same time.

  96. I forgot to add that Framingham has affordable housing and IIRC, the other towns nearby somehow avoided getting affordable housing built in their towns. Then Framingham residents were up in arms because they didn’t want to be stuck with all the affordable housing units that required to get built.

  97. @Milo – MMM would have been proud of my kids. We went to a restaurant and there was a sign that said “Kids eat free today, from kids menu”. When the menus arrived, I told them that they were free to order from either the regular or the kids menu. They looked shocked and kept harping on the “Kids eat free, from kids menu” sign and never ordered from the regular menu.

  98. WCE, that article doesn’t make a strong case either. They are just looking at upstate NY, which is certainly rural, but a world away from the very high need urban districts in NY. You can’t compare. I think a better comparison would be to look at districts in Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta, both high need rural areas, and compare with the Bronx or Yonkers.

    The reason I was paying attention is because I know that the schools in the really bad parts of Appalachia don’t do a very good job, for pretty much the same reasons that schools in really bad parts of the Bronx also don’t do a good job. The poverty and social ills are so entrenched.

  99. Nice. When they were babysitting one weekend, my in-laws introduced my kids to the wonders of Red Lobster’s crab legs. A couple months later, they were asking for it when we were discussing restaurant options for lunch after church. But after we sat down and they had a chance to look at the menus, I asked what they were going to order and #1 says “I’ll just get the popcorn shrimp.”

    “Why? I thought you wanted crab legs.”

    “It’s $9. The shrimp is $5.”

    In that case, I said to order what they wanted.

    A week later we’re getting take out from Chick fil A to bring home, and #2 says “make sure you get me a chocolate milk,” to which #1 immediately interjects, “No, #2!. We can make chocolate milk at home and it will be a LOT cheaper!”

    I agreed with that one.

  100. Great article, Milo. I particularly liked this commenter:

    “For the rich not only value property above human life, but demand that society engage in the slaughter of humans just so that they may enjoy a safe, rich and glorified life.”

    Yes, but the baby I had for breakfast this morning was delicious.

  101. I was thinking of a few posters this morning because one of my friends keeps trying to log in for PSAT results and they’re still not available. She’s flipping out. Her DD received great SAT scores, but she wants to know about NMS.

    My DH is at work and he is flipping out about the markets.

    It’s only 9:15 and everyone I spoke to today is stressed or upset about something.

  102. Lauren – counterpoint. My kid did NOT receive great SAT scores; I’m getting the same message re the PSAT “Our records indicate you have not taken any College Board assessments. If this is incorrect, click on the button below and provide additional information to add scores to this account. Please contact Customer Service at (866) 433-7728 for assistance or if you have any questions. ” But no concern that my kid is NMS material. Yeah, the market is down again.

    I cannot get stressed about this stuff! Worrying/stressing just doesn’t help me!

  103. Milo,

    They didn’t define what living paycheck to paycheck means. You could have a couple making $250k putting 50k a year into a ROTH 401k sweating the bills every month. They would feel like they are struggling and living paycheck to paycheck when they really aren’t. Same for someone who went with a 15 vs. 30 year mortgage.

  104. Rhett – I was thinking the same thing. It’s just an expression people use, and it can be meaningless. I also like “living on a fixed income.”

    Fixed at what?

  105. I have some cash that I’d like to shove into the market now that it’s tanking, but I’m still saving it in case I need a down payment on the California property we’re still looking for. And this blog is the ONLY place I can complain about that.

  106. I also like “living on a fixed income.”

    I know. How is that different from a salary?

  107. I hope the market tanks by half. Or more. I certainly didn’t want to spend the next 25 years dutifully buying regular increments of inflated stocks at 25 times their annual earnings.

  108. “I also like ‘living on a fixed income.'”

    DH always tries to pick up the check when we are out with his parents, with “after all, you’re living on a fixed income.” On the country club in Boca . . . .

  109. Yeah, “fixed income” always bugged me too. It’s not like I could’ve just walked into the director’s office and insisted I suddenly needed my salary doubled. It was pretty fixed.

  110. Oh yeah, that is right, PSAT scores are out today. I guess we will check when DS1 gets home from school. I think the school progress reports are out too, which is going to be more stressful. DS1 took the PSAT, but it was the optional early take of the test, so we aren’t expecting anything too awesome.

  111. So are you guys saying that your kids took the SAT before the PSAT? Huh. I don’t think my stepson did that, and I don’t think it was even an option back in 1847 when I was in school.

  112. Honestly, it sounds like SAT scores are kind of like credit scores nowadays. Credit scores get used for everything, like judging whether you’d be a good employee. Used-to-was, SAT scores were used by colleges, but now all kinds of programs use them. [Grandpa Simpson mode = ON] I wanna watch Matlock [/off].

  113. Rocky,
    My kid (a junior) took the PSAT in October; he took the SAT in early December. The PSAT scores are delayed; the SAT scores were available just before Christmas. It’s a reporting thing with collegeboard.

  114. “neither knew how to cook. Not even how to make toast!”

    I assume what they mean is that they really preferred not to.

  115. Ah, thanks, Fred. On the other hand, don’t people here occasionally say stuff like “my kid took the SAT in 7th grade to qualify for XYZ Killer Advanced Summer Program”?

  116. Milo, that would not be very good for me, although since DH got an A plus yesterday at the cardiologist and we can get another five years out of our cars, we can “get by” without liquidating any stocks for a while. As RMS said, only here can I whine about such things.

  117. Milo – did you notice the Frugalwoods had their baby and have pictures of their faces now? They are also having a bunch of guest bloggers while she is on maternity leave.

  118. L – It’s because the Frugalwoods people were on the Today show so they decided to reveal themselves on the blog.

  119. I haven’t followed the Frugalwoods after that one time people discussed them on here. Maybe I should. MMM is losing his voice, imo, as he’s transitioned from frugal small time landlord into minor celebrity on the alternative/hipster speaking circuit. He’s posting about being a speaker at the ‘World Domination Summit,’ which I’ve only ever heard of when the guy from GRS started to go off the deep end, he was writing about how *awesome* it was.

    That’s quite a beard Mr. Frugalwood has.

  120. Mrs. Frugalwoods’ writing style is a little precious for me but I read their blog occasionally. I think they are a little too hardcore.

  121. My God, she is the skinniest 9-months-pregnant woman I have ever seen in my life. #overwhelmingjealousyandunjustifiedhatred

  122. “My kid (a junior) took the PSAT in October; he took the SAT in early December. The PSAT scores are delayed; the SAT scores were available just before Christmas. It’s a reporting thing with collegeboard.”

    +1. Just got his PSAT scores today.

  123. Mooshi, I took the point of the article that income isn’t the be-all and end-all of community quality. I think they acknowledged that there are other factors- immigration, kids moving a lot, drugs- that can make some low-income environments different from others. I’ve lived near a few Mennonite settlements.

    Family dysfunction, more than income, is the main enemy.

  124. “I also like “living on a fixed income.”

    I know. How is that different from a salary?’

    A salary isn’t guaranteed, e.g., one could get fired or laid off.

    Many fixed incomes, e.g., social security, are much more secure than a salary. Actually, social security is a bad example, because it’s not fixed, it has COL increases.

    There’s also no law against someone with a ‘fixed income’ getting a job.

  125. DS also took PSAT in Oct and SAT in Dec. He got the SAT scores while we were having dinner one night during the break, and got his PSAT scores this morning while eating breakfast.

    I need to recalibrate to the new scoring system, no longer based on a max of 240, now based on a max of 1520.

  126. Thanks for the timely reminder; my son was able to get his PSAT scores this morning.

    He pointed out to me that it was a max of 760 per test and I was like “whooaahh. How can this be?” I spent like five minutes looking at it before I finally accepted that the top score was no longer 800 (or 80, as it used to be).

  127. “He pointed out to me that it was a max of 760 per test and I was like “whooaahh. How can this be?”‘

    Yeah, a 760 is not a reason to be disappointed.

  128. Milo, just saw this – he said “don’t spend any money”. He was only 1/2 joking. I know he is very stressed at work right now because everyday brings more bad news, and it has been this way in his firm for a while – Ukraine, oil. Puerto Rico and now China. It isn’t just the last few weeks since he is not in equities.

    When your job is tied to the market, you can never look away from the headlines and the numbers. We try to ignore our personal accounts during times like this, but work becomes a bear.

    We’ve been through this two times together prior to this crisis, and it wasn’t fun. The first time, I was working for a company that was on the right side of the problem in the markets. I got a bonus and a promotion. He eventually lost his job because his firm couldn’t deal with the big loss. The second time in 07-08 was beyond miserable. There were times when we didn’t know what would happen each day at work, and the fires were non stop since the markets were a faster until all of the government intervention.

    He is riding out this crisis on his own since i am just working on some very minor projects for my old bank. His firm really made some bad choices. They’re large and solid enough to ride this out, but there has already been casualties as several people already resigned.

  129. I wonder why kids in this state can’t get their scores if some of your kids are able to get them. My friend happens to be a litigator and she is ready to sue to the college board. I told her to chill out, but she seems obsessed with knowing about the NMS thing more than the score. BTW, that “great” SAT score cost her mother $5000 !!!!! to pay for a private tutor after the kid din’t do well the first time that she took the SAT. Grandma to the rescue.

  130. Lauren, official NMS announcements aren’t usually made until September of senior year. Kids will t typically know if they’re above or below the historical cutoff, or on the bubble, but this year may be different because the scoring change makes it harder to project the cutoff.

    It would be nice to know now, so decisions like which colleges to visit could be made with that taken into consideration.

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