marriage gradient

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

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

Audio Pronunciation: (mar·riage gra·di·ent)

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Usage Notes:

  • Plural: marriage gradients
  • Informally, men marry “down” and women “marry up.”
  • A 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 women have difficultly finding men with higher status and lower status men have difficulty finding women of lower status. Additionally, older women and African-American women 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 women more education and occupational mobility and therefore increased opportunities to marry men 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 Quotes:

  • “‘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.

Montez JK, MD Hayward, DC Brown, and RA 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.

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.

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

Works Consulted

Abercrombie, Nicholas, Stephen Hill, and Bryan Turner. 2006. The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. 5th ed. London: Penguin.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 5th ed. 2011. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Jary, David, and Julia Jary. 2000. Collins Dictionary of Sociology. 3rd ed. Glasgow, Scotland: HarperCollins.

Macmillan. (N.d.) Macmillan Dictionary. (

Merriam-Webster. (N.d.) Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (

Princeton University. 2010. WordNet. (

Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. 1997. New York: Random House.

Scott, John, and Gordon Marshall. 2005. A Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Turner, Bryan S., ed. 2006. The Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wiktionary, The Free Dictionary. Wikimedia Foundation. (

How to Cite the Definition of Marriage Gradient

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2014. “marriage gradient.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved July 18, 2019 (

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

marriage gradient. (2014). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from

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

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2014. “marriage gradient.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed July 18, 2019.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“marriage gradient.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2014. Web. 18 Jul. 2019. <>.