Le choix du partenaire dépend fortement de son revenu
Distribution of types of household according to level of education (1992, 2000 and 2014)

In Switzerland, people increasingly find love within their income bracket

This is Laura Ravazzini, Ursina Kuhn and Christian Suter’s observation, in an article published in the last edition of the journal Social Change in Switzerland. Based on the Swiss Household Panel, the researchers demonstrate the evolution of the education level and the households’ income of heterosexual partners in Switzerland between 1992 and 2014.

The study based on the Swiss Household Panel reveals that heterosexual couples’ homogamy has increased in Switzerland since the 1990’s. High-earning men are now more frequently in relationships with high-earning women, and that low earners more frequently have partners in the same income bracket. With regard to education, individuals with a low level of education in particular are more likely to form relationships together than was the case twenty years ago. These conclusions were found by the three authors of the article issued in the last edition (n° 17) of the journal Social Change in Switzerland, published by the University of Lausanne by FORS, LINES and the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES.

This new study shows how the educational levels and household incomes of heterosexual couples in Switzerland are changing. Between 1992 and 2014, the proportion of couples where both partners were university graduates rose from 3% to 13% of all households. During the same period, the proportion of homogamous couples who had completed their upper secondary education (apprenticeship or sixth form-level college) fell from 36% to 27%. The proportion of couples where both partners had only completed compulsory education remained stable at 8%. Since this population group is decreasing, this stable figure reveals a choice of partner that is becoming increasingly selective.

The role of women

The increase of homogamy could partially be explained by the fact that young women in Switzerland are educated to the same level as men could in part explain the increase in homogamy. Indeed, the proportion of households where men have a higher level of education than their female partners fell from 28% in 1992 to 20% in 2014. At the same time, couples where the female partner is educated to a higher level than the male partner today account for 12% of all households, compared to 7% in 1992.

Unlike homogamy of education, which remains largely static throughout life, homogamy of income depends on the choice of partner and the way in which partners in a relationship decide to share the paid work and work in the home. Mothers reduce or interrupt their careers, and therefore their incomes, more often than men. Despite this, the research team showed that the earnings of both partners within couples are increasingly converging. Therefore, couples where the partners have similar incomes are those where the female partner has a higher level of education than the male partner.

Education is decisive as soon as couples meet

Alongside the essentially visible characteristics of a potential partner (finances, physical appearance, social status, etc.), the place where couples meet is unwittingly a decisive factor. The majority of couples are actually formed between pupils at school, colleagues in the workplace or from circles of mutual friends. In addition, the increase in homogamous couples can also be explained by the fact that society is in general becoming more inclined to pursue education to a higher level than in the past. The combined effect of raising the level of education and greater educational equality between the sexes has automatically led to a higher proportion of homogamous couples where both partners are well educated.

Gender-based differences for people living alone

This research also highlights that the probability of living alone is associated with income and level of education, but in ways which differ according to gender. It shows that the categories most likely to live alone are men earning a low income and women with a high level of education. Overall, the proportion of men and women living alone has remained constant at approximately one fifth of all households (people aged 25-64 years).

Could homogamy be a cause of inequality?

Although it appears that choosing a similar partner leads to more stable relationships, this homogamy could at the same time be damaging for society as a whole. Researchers note this is because a society where the wealthy marry each other is more unequal than one where wealthy individuals marry low earners. Given that couples with a low level of education are increasing in number, they are now more segregated than during the 1990s. If we accept the premise that incomes increase as educational attainment rises, these less educated couples may represent a vulnerable group in Swiss society.