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Match Made in Heaven? NC Researcher Finds Social Class Impacts Relationships

PHOTO: A Duke sociologist found in her research that socioeconomic status in childhood impacts decisions later in life, even when that person marries someone who grew up with more financial resources. Photo credit: Fabrice Lambert/Wikimedia Commons.
PHOTO: A Duke sociologist found in her research that socioeconomic status in childhood impacts decisions later in life, even when that person marries someone who grew up with more financial resources. Photo credit: Fabrice Lambert/Wikimedia Commons.
February 13, 2015

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Your compatibility with your partner may come down to dollars and cents, according to the research of a Duke University professor.

Sociologist Jessi Streib studied couples in which each partner grew up in a different socio-economic class and found that even if you "marry up," your upbringing still impacts decisions and behaviors.

"People from different-class backgrounds often had different ideas of how they wanted to live their daily lives," she said, "and this would would shape everything from how they would express emotions to how they wanted to spend their money."

Among her other findings was one that runs contrary to the notion held by many scholars that "strivers" can outrun a difficult childhood by getting a college degree and good-paying middle-class job.

A person's approach to raising children also is impacted by his or her economic upbringing. Streib said those who grew up in a financially depressed family choose to let their children have more control over their time, while people who grew up in the middle class tend to plan and make decisions for their children.

"They wanted to organize and oversee and make sure things were going according to a plan," she said, "and their partners who grew up with less privilege often had to kind of navigate unstable situations and so they wanted to approach things in a more spontaneous way."

Streib, author of "Power of the Past: Understanding Cross-class Marriages," added that the obstacles presented by a socio-economic "mismatch" can be overcome, provided the couple is mindful of their differences.

More informaton from Streib's book on the subject is online at duke.edu.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC