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Marriage and Status Equivalence

How, then, was status equivalence in the marriage market affected by the rise of professionalism? We begin by looking first at learned professionals. In the same way as above, women’s status is determined on the basis of their own occupation, and the nobility and old clerical families are examined separately from worker and tenant-worker families. This time we omit from consideration the noble and clerical families that had declined in status. We start with the upper echelons that adjusted well to the altered social circumstances.

In the nobility, 87 per cent of male learned professionals born between 1900 and 1970 married women who were learned professionals. The corresponding figure in old clerical families was lower at 62 per cent, and in the tiny group of learned professionals in tenant-worker families lower still at 50 per cent. These frequencies suggest, on the one hand, that identical status equivalence was quite high in all these status groups, indicating that high status tends to be hereditary even if it is measured by level of education. On the other hand, the differences between the three figures—87, 62 and 50 per cent—attest to differences in the propensity for heredity: heredity was strongest in families where the highest status had been passed down in the family across several generations, and weakest in tenant-worker families where the high status was of recent origin. This was a privilege of dynasticity. Women followed this pattern to a great extent: three-quarters of noblewomen who were learned professionals married their identical status equals. In old clerical families the proportion was exactly the same, but again lower in tenant-worker families, 57 per cent. Even though the marriage market of professionals is quite exclusive in all three types of families, it is important to remark again that, once men and women from former tenant-worker families have become learned professionals, they tend to choose their spouses according to the principle of status equivalence, an imperative that was closely followed in the uppermost echelons for centuries. Learned professionals were to be no exception in this respect.

In contrast to the situation among learned professionals, there are marked gender differences at the lower tertiary educational level, which in my data set is dominated by lower-level business college and technical graduates as well as elementary and nursery school teachers and nurses. In this group men’s choices in the marriage market were similar to those of learned professional males: while three-quarters of both noblemen and descendants of old clerical families married their status equals, the corresponding share for men from tenant-worker families was one-half. Women, on the other hand, moved in different directions in the marriage market. Only 30 per cent of noblewomen who were lower- grade professionals married their status equals. In old clerical families the proportion was even lower, 17 per cent, whereas in tenant-worker families it was much higher, 56 per cent. And whom did noblewomen and female descendants of old clerical families marry if not their identical status equals? They married men who were one notch higher in the social pyramid, that is, learned professionals. Nearly half of noblewomen and women from old clerical families but a mere 10 per cent of women from former tenant-worker families made this upwardly choice. This result suggests that a high-status family background was beneficial to slightly less educated women in the marriage market, inasmuch as success in that market is measured by the status of one’s spouse.

When we move on to examine the lower ranks, the nobility drops out of our data set for the simple reason that lower-ranking employees were so small in numbers. The same goes for old clerical families, but even so we find one tentative result: the spread of occupations represented among their spouses is quite wide, as if there were no rules for the hierarchical order of occupations. Female clerks from old clerical families provide a good example. Clerks, whom I have placed in the middle of the ranking list after higher and lower-grade professionals, married higher- or lower- grade professionals as well as general managers of big firms, but also technicians and in a few cases even workers. Whatever the reason for this variation, it seems to have been important that a middling rank stretched both upwards and downwards in the marriage market.

Male workers in old tenant-worker families seemed to have their own marriage market. One-quarter of their marriages were identical by status, that is, worker-to-worker marriages, and another one-quarter were marriages to assistant nurses with a short vocational training. Half of workers’ marriages were thus status identical or almost identical. When we additionally include clerks (20 per cent), two status notches higher up than workers, we can conclude that almost three-quarters of the marriages contracted by workers from former tenant-worker families between the 1930s and 1990s were either status identical or one or two steps higher up. The marriage market of old tenant-worker families stretched upwards, but not normally beyond the middle ranks. This result seems plausible in view of the earlier observations in this book: if a woman from a higher-ranking family married a worker, that would inevitably lead to the undesirable but sometimes unavoidable fate of social decline. For this reason, perhaps, learned professionals avoided marrying workers.

On the other hand, at the time when women’s status was directly determined by their fathers’ status, workers more often married workers’ daughters, that is, their social equals by the standards of those days. In that respect, workers’ marriage market had become more open—or workers had become more acceptable husband candidates to the growing group of lower-middle-class women, who did not feature in the workers’ marriage market in the nineteenth century. But properly speaking, the range of workers’ occupations even then was wider, including families of tenants, crofters and farmhands. They formed the class of workers or paupers who were united by experiences of poverty and landlessness, which was to evolve into a political class consciousness (Alapuro 1994, 256-70). The same was manifested in marriages: people from worker, tenant, crofter, farmhand and smallholder families married one another. After the introduction of the Tenant Act in the early 1920s, tenants bought up their land parcels, which turned them into smallholders. In that position they identified themselves as other smallholders or farmers, as they were soon to be called. This reform resulted in their dropping out of the marriage market of workers. Transposing this pattern to the twentieth century, our conclusion would be that workers and assistant nurses for sure but perhaps clerks too—or at least part of them—were equal in status. Another factor that changed the old marriage market of workers was vocational training, which upgraded some workers to the upper layer of the working class. And indeed, technicians did not marry workers but women of higher status—clerks, lower-grade professionals and department heads, but also assistant nurses.

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