The Accumulation of Wealth in Marriage: Over-Time Change and Within-Couple Inequalities

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Nicole Kapelle, Philipp M. Lersch

In: European Sociological Review 36 (2020), 4, S. 580-593


This study examines the accumulation of personal wealth of husbands and wives and investigates the development of within-couple wealth inequalities over time in marriage. Going beyond previous re- search that mostly studied the marriage wealth premium using household-level wealth data and that conceptualized marriage as an instantaneous transition with uniform consequences over time, we argue that entry into marriage is a gendered life-course event that dynamically shapes husbands’ and wives’ wealth accumulation. Using high-quality data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (2002, 2007, 2012, and 2017), we apply fixed-effects regression models to describe wealth accumulation within marriage. We find evidence that wealth premiums are lower during early years of marriage, but increase steadily thereafter. The premium is mostly concentrated in housing wealth. Results from supplementary analyses with limited data, however, suggest that the premium may not be causal for men. Regarding within-couple wealth inequalities, we find a pronounced within-couple wealth gap prior to marriage during pre-marital cohabitation. This gap remains stable over time in marriage. In contrast to findings regarding income, our study indicates that the institution of marriage may not amplify within-couple wealth inequalities further.