Men from poor families twice as likely to be single

Why are men from poor families twice as likely to be single in their 40s?
By Georgina Lee
11 Aug 2017

One in three men from disadvantaged backgrounds live alone in their early 40s, according to a study released by the Institute for Fiscal Studies today.

Compare that to men from the UK’s wealthiest families: just one in seven of whom are single.

What’s going on? FactCheck looks at the figures.

Are women choosing wealthy partners over poorer ones?
It’s a bit of a cliché (some would say a slur) that women prefer wealthier romantic partners.

On the face of it, today’s study appears to back up that hypothesis. But the reality is more complicated. Here’s why…

Just because you’re single in your 40s doesn’t mean you haven’t been successful with women.

The IFS study looks at men aged 42 and takes a snapshot of their current living situation.

It’s true that men of that age who were born into the poorest 20 per cent of families are more likely to have never been married than those from the richest backgrounds.

But poorer men at that age are also more than twice as likely to be divorced than their wealthier counterparts.

In other words, poorer men in their 40s may be single now, but that doesn’t tell us how many partners (in or out of marriage) they have had in the past.

Indeed, if poorer men are less likely to get and/or stay married, they may even have more romantic partners over the course of their lives – precisely because the relationships are shorter-lived.

The fact is, we can’t tell definitively either way. And we certainly can’t conclude from this data that women prefer wealthier men.

Already-rich men benefit from their wives’ income, which increases inequality between rich and poor
So this study doesn’t tell us much about matters of the heart. But it does tell another interesting story: that the gap between rich and poor is widening partly because high-earning men are marrying high-earning women.

The wealth or poverty of your family background has long been considered a significant predictor of your future income, as the IFS report attests. But today’s figures show us that this effect is becoming even more pronounced over time.

In 2000, 42 year old men who were born into the richest fifth of UK families earned 47 per cent more than those from the poorest fifth.
By 2012, that gap had widened to a massive 88 per cent.

The study finds that if you’re a man in his early 40s, it’s not just your parents’ wealth that predicts your income: your partner’s earning power is increasingly significant too. To some extent, this is pretty obvious: if couples pool their resources, they are collectively wealthier.

But remember that women-as-high-earners is a relatively new phenomenon, and its effects on intergenerational equality are only now starting to materialise. (Although of course there’s still a long way to go before women and men earn the same).

The IFS study finds that there’s a strong tendency among richer people to pair up with similarly wealthy partners. So as women start to earn more, the gap between rich and poor men is widening because high-earning men are marrying high-earning women.
FactCheck verdict

Poorer men are twice as likely to be single in their early 40s as richer men. But this isn’t about women being picky when it comes to partners. In fact, it’s possible that poorer men have more partners through their lives because they less likely to get married.

There’s also evidence that already-rich men benefit from getting married because they’re likely to partner up with high-earning women. This is making the earnings gap between rich and poor men wider.