Washington Law Review

Article

The Marital Wealth Gap

March 27, 2018 | 93 Wash. L. Rev. 1

Abstract: Married couples are wealthier than people in all other family structures. The top 10% of wealth holders are, in great proportion, married. Even among the wealthiest households, married couples hold significantly more wealth than others. The Article identifies this phenomenon as the “Marital Wealth Gap,” and critiques the role of diverse legal mechanisms in creating and maintaining it. Marriage also contributes to the concentration of wealth because marriage patterns are increasingly assortative: wealth marries wealth. The law entrenches or even exacerbates these class-based marriage patterns by erecting structural barriers that hinder people from meeting across economic strata.

How can the state restructure the law to alleviate the marital wealth gap? The Article proposes a fundamental shift in the way the state treats wealth and family status. It advances a theory grounded in transformative “recognition and redistribution” that decentralizes marriage’s monopoly on wealth-related benefits and simultaneously aims to reduce wealth concentration among the richest households. Principally, since marriage is the preserve of the well-off, the state should decouple wealth benefits from marriage. At the same time, it should combat the structures that enable wealth concentration among affluent married couples, thereby dismantling the architecture that supports the marital wealth gap.

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