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marriage gradient

Definition of Marriage Gradient

(noun) The tendency for a male to a marry a younger, slightly more attractive, and physically smaller female with lower educational attainment and occupational status, and for a female to marry a slightly older and physically larger male with higher educational attainment and occupational status.

Example of Marriage Gradient

  • A 35-year old male, that is 180 centimeters tall with a graduate degree and professional career marries a 28-year old female, that is 160 centimeters tall with no secondary education working in the service sector.

Marriage Gradient Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: mar·riage gra·di·ent

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /mAIR-ij grAY-dee-uhnt/
  • British English – /mAr-ij grAY-diuhnt/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /ˈmɛrɪʤ ˈgreɪdiənt/
  • British English – /ˈmærɪʤ ˈgreɪdiənt/

Usage Notes

  • Plural: marriage gradients
  • Informally, males marry “down” and females “marry up.”
  • marriage following the tendency of the marriage gradient is called hypergamy, the opposite of which is hypogamy, and both are examples of anisogamy.
  • Marriage squeeze refers to the difficulty that higher status individuals have in finding potential partners. An excess of eligible males is called a male marriage squeeze and an excess of females is called a female marriage squeeze. For example, higher status females have difficultly finding males with higher status and lower status males have difficulty finding females of lower status. Additionally, older females and African-American females have a higher likelihood of experiencing the marriage squeeze (Strong, DeVault, and Cohen 2011:276).
  • Coined by Betty Yorburg, marriage gradient reversal (MGR) is the opposite of the marriage gradient and an example of hypogamy. MGR posits that postindustrial societies offer females more education and occupational mobility and therefore increased opportunities to marry males with lower educational attainment and occupational status.
  • The education gradient refers to variations of demographics based on educational attainment such as childbearing (Perelli-Harris et al. 2010), health, and marriage rates (Kalmijn 2013).
  • Also called:
    • marriage gradient theory
    • mating gradient
    • mating gradient theory

Related Quotation

  • “‘All the good ones are taken’ is a common complaint of women in their mid-thirties and beyond, even if there are still more men than women in that age bracket. The reason for this is the mating gradient, the tendency for women to marry men of higher status. Although we tend to marry those of the same socioeconomic status and cultural background, men tend to marry women slightly below them in age, education, and so on” (Strong, DeVault, and Cohen 2011:276).

Additional Information

Related Terms


Kalmijn, Matthijs. 2013. “The Educational Gradient in Marriage: A Comparison of 25 European Countries.” Demography 50(4):1499–1520. doi:10.1007/s13524-013-0229-x.

Montez, Jennifer Karas, Mark D. Hayward, Dustin C. Brown, and Robert A. Hummer. 2009. “Why is the Educational Gradient of Mortality Steeper for Men?” The Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 64(5):625–34. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbp013.

Perelli-Harris, Brienna, Wendy Sigle-Rushton, Michaela Kreyenfeld, Trude Lappegård, Renske Keizer, and Caroline Berghammer. 2010. “The Educational Gradient of Childbearing within Cohabitation in Europe.” Population and Development Review 36(4):775–801. doi:10.1111/j.1728-4457.2010.00357.x.

Strong, Bryan, Christine DeVault, and Theodore F. Cohen. 2011. The Marriage and Family Experience: Intimate Relationships in a Changing Society. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Cite the Definition of Marriage Gradient

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2014. “marriage gradient.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved May 23, 2024 (https://sociologydictionary.org/marriage-gradient/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

marriage gradient. (2014). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/marriage-gradient/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2014. “marriage gradient.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed May 23, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/marriage-gradient/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“marriage gradient.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2014. Web. 23 May. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/marriage-gradient/>.