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Lady and the Trump: Status and Wealth in the Marriage Market

Johan Almenberg and Anna Dreber

Kyklos, 2009, vol. 62, issue 2, 161-181

Abstract: Indicators of past wealth –‘old money’– typically bestow prestige and contribute to high status. Nobility, a culturally determined, hereditary status marker, might act as such an indicator, and thereby serve as a vehicle for the cultural transmission of economic standing. As an institution, nobility is an anachronism. Status, however, plays an important role in most societies, making individuals allocate valuable resources to status‐enhancing activities. This suggests that even though nobility no longer entails formal privileges, it may continue to be coveted as a status marker. We examine the relative performance of nobility in the marriage market. Data on Swedish marriages provide an opportunity to test the hypothesis that the probability of hypergamy (marrying ‘up’) in terms of wealth increases when an individual belongs to the nobility. Our main finding is a significantly higher probability of hypergamy for members of the nobility, controlling for own wealth and other covariates. This ‘nobility premium’ is sizeable. The effect is statistically significant and robust to a number of different measures of hypergamy. This finding has implications for the intergenerational transmission of inequality, and for the longevity of the institution of nobility itself.

Date: 2009
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