The Role of Inheritance and Labour Income in Marital Choices

Nicolas Frémeaux  By the same author


This article investigates the importance of inherited wealth in marital choices in France. Drawing on data from the Actifs financiers and Patrimoine French wealth surveys, we use information about parental wealth to estimate respondents’ expected inherited wealth over their lifetime so that we can study total inherited wealth. There is clear evidence of positive assortative mating based on inheritance. It is also very unlikely for a non-inheritor to marry a top inheritor (either male or female). While education explains a large part of marital sorting based on permanent income, it accounts for just 20% of the overall correlation for inherited wealth. We also show that inheritance and labour income are poor substitutes, since labour income only partially compensates for a lack of parental wealth. Our estimates show that the degree of marital sorting remained stable between 1992 and 2010, and substitutability increased slightly at the end of the study period. Two mechanisms may explain these findings: the socialization process and the effect of preferences. These new results are key to understanding the dynamics of inequalities and, more especially, the consequences of long-term changes in the role of inheritance in rich countries.