One in three men from disadvantaged backgrounds are single at age of 42, compared with one in seven from rich families
Middle-aged men from disadvantaged backgrounds are twice as likely to be single as those from rich families, according to a new study that highlights the lack of social mobility in Britain.
Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that men’s marriage prospects are linked to their upbringing, and that the disparity between those from well-off and poor families has widened in recent years.
The study found that one in three men from disadvantaged backgrounds were single at the age of 42, compared with one in seven from rich backgrounds.
The IFS said this was the result both of lower marriage rates and a higher likelihood of relationship breakdown among men from low-income families. Men from low-income households were more than twice as likely to be divorced as those from high-income backgrounds – 11% rather than 5% – and almost twice as likely never to have been married (36% rather than 20%).
The thinktank said it had long been established that the sons of richer parents tended to have higher incomes than those with poor parents, but it noted that the gap was widening. In 2012, employed 42-year-old men whose parents were among the richest fifth of households earned an average of 88% more than those from the poorest families. In 2000, the equivalent gap was 47%. The income gap was reduced to 66% after tax.
The IFS said men from disadvantaged backgrounds were also losing out by not being able to attract or keep a partner. Even among men in couples, the partners of men from richer backgrounds earn 73% more than the partners of men from poorer families.
“Female earnings are an increasingly important component of household income and so these trends significantly reduce the household incomes of men who grew up in poor families compared with those of men who grew up in rich families,” the IFS said. “And this is a new phenomenon. Amongst men born 12 years earlier, the differences in partnership status and partner earnings by family background were considerably smaller.”
Men from poorer backgrounds were twice as likely to be out of work as those from richer backgrounds, the study found. Only 7% of men growing up in the richest fifth of households were out of work at the age of 42 in 2012 – a year when the economy was growing only sluggishly – while more than 15% of men from the poorest fifth of households were out of work.
Men from poorer backgrounds are also more than twice as likely to receive disability benefits as those from better-off families, at 11% rather than 4%.
Chris Belfield, a research economist at IFS and an author of the paper, said: “Focusing solely on the earnings of men in work understates the importance of family background in determining living standards.
“As well as having higher earnings, those from richer families are more likely to be in work, more likely to have a partner and more likely to have a higher-earning partner than those from less-well-off backgrounds. And all these inequalities have been widening over time.”