FWF project number: P 35136

Duration: 01.01.2022 - 30.06.2025

Project Description

The average level of education is on the rise (educational expansion). More and more people enter higher education, especially young women, who are nowadays more highly educated on average than men. The growing education gap to the advantage of women affects partnership formation, insofar as the share of couples in which the woman is more educated than the man (hypogamous couples) is rising. Conversely, the share of more traditional couples in which the man has the higher socioeconomic status than the woman is falling. The majority of those seeking partnerships today prefer a partner with a comparable socioeconomic status (social norm of homogamous couples).

Yet, in the case of highly educated women, the number of equally highly educated potential mates is limited and falling over time. This restriction on the mating market leads to a growing share of couples, who do not fit the norm of homogamous partnerships, because the woman has the higher socioeconomic status in the couple (in terms of education and/or income). This norm violation can theoretically trigger different kinds of behaviors: Either the couple experiences the modernized status pairing as an unwelcome violation of a gender norm and aims to adhere to this norm through the woman’s behavior: despite her high(er) education, she may focus on a role as a mother and secondary earner in the family while leaving the man to act as the main breadwinner. Alternatively, the couple acts in an economically ‘rational’ way: The highly qualified woman is strongly involved in the labor market, builds an occupational career and earns more than half of the household income, whereas she may have fewer children and do less unpaid housework.

The HypoFam project investigates, based on large-scale data from administrative records in Austria, how a societal trend towards greater shares of hypogamous couples affects couples and their behaviors. We study the impact of couple constellations in terms of her and his education and income on their fertility, the gender division of labor within the couple as well as gendered employment and income trajectories after the birth of a first child. The project aims to estimate causal effects of the socioeconomic sta-tus of the female partner relative to the male partner in heterosexual couples (couple constellations) on the couple’s fertility, the labor market behavior of both partners and as a consequence on gender equality and the motherhood wage penalty.