What can movie stars tell us about marriage?

Marriages among celebrities might be able to help unravel the reasons why people tend to marry partners of similar education levels.

What can celebrities tell us about marriage

Movie stars: Is there anything they can’t tell us?

Social scientists have known for years that married people tend to be sorted by their levels of education, but the reasons for it have been elusive.

It could be all about money. People may assume that a partner with similar education will have a salary that matches theirs. Or it could have to do with lifestyle factors — similar education may lead to similar interests in books, music and hobbies.

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On the other hand, sociologists might argue that sorting by education has less to do with personal preference and more to do with who we’re likely to meet. People often meet their future spouses in college or grad school. Also, people of similar educational backgrounds tend to end up side-by-side in the workforce, leading to ample opportunities to strike up romance.

Education matters

Movie star marriages can help sort all this out, according to Gustaf Bruze, an economist at the Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences in Denmark.

Bruze assembled a large data set of top movie stars’ marriages, earnings and education levels.

He found that level of formal education has no correlation with a movie star’s success, either in terms of box office earnings or the likelihood of winning an Oscar. Yet despite the disconnect between education and success, movie stars who marry each other still tend to have similar educational backgrounds, Bruze’s analysis shows. His data also show that actors are unlikely to meet their spouses in school, or be cast together in movies due to their education level.

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The findings, published in the Spring 2011 issue of the Journal of Human Capital, suggest that sorting on education isn’t all about the money or solely an artifact of professional affiliations.

“What it says is that men and women have very strong preferences for non-financial partner traits correlated with education,” Bruze said. “And educational sorting would remain even if the tendency of men and women to work with colleagues of a similar educational background were to disappear or if the role of educational institutions as a meeting place for future husbands and wives were to disappear.”

It also means that if you’re looking to marry, for example, actor and PhD student James Franco, you might want to hit the books.


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About: Gustaf Bruze, "Marriage Choices of Movie Stars: Does Spouse's Education Matter?" Journal of Human Capital 5:1 (Spring 2011).

Original publication date: April 27, 2011

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