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Society: Poor Men In Their 40s More Likely To Live Alone

Posted by Mark Cantrell on August 19, 2017 at 5:45 AM

Poverty makes for poor bedfellows

Life on low incomes is proving a singularly poor existence in more ways than one for men in their early 40s, claims a new study from the Institute of Fiscal Studies...

IT can be a lonely life for the poor, especially men, if a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) is anything to go by, writes Mark Cantrell.

The working paper, Intergenerational Income Persistence Within Families, explores the importance of family background for household income. Released earlier this month, the IFS study was produced with funding assistance from CLOSER (Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources), which is itself funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

Those from poor backgrounds have lower earnings (some might say obviously) and are twice as likely to be single as those from rich families, the report claims. In 2012, it found, more than one-in-three men from disadvantaged backgrounds, aged in their early 40s, were living alone.

By contrast, only one-in-seven men from rich backgrounds were living without a partner by the time they had reached their early 40s. According to the study, this disparity has strengthened the link between the incomes of families across generations, serving to reduce social mobility.

“Focusing solely on the earnings of men in work understates the importance of family background in determining living standards,” said Chris Belfield, a research economist with the IFS, and one of the report's authors.

“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.”

Though it is well known that the sons of richer parents tend to go on to have higher earnings, this new research claims they also benefit from being more likely to have a partner. What's more, that partner is likely to have higher earnings too, thus boosting the household's socio-economic clout.

Even among men in couples, the partners of men from richer backgrounds earn 73% more than the partners of men from poorer families, the study claims.

Female earnings are an increasingly important component of household income, 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.

This is no 'age-old' phenomenon either, the study claims – it's something new.

According to the study, amongst men born 12 years earlier, the differences in partnership status and partner earnings by family background were considerably smaller.

This change in household composition has strengthened the link between the incomes of parents and children and as a result it has served to reduce social mobility. Key findings in the study include:

  • The earnings gap between men with richer parents and their counterparts from less well-off backgrounds is widening

In 2012, employed 42-year-old men whose parents were among the richest fifth of households earned on average 88% more than those from the poorest families. In 2000, the equivalent gap for men of the same age was 47%.

  • More than one-in-three men aged 42 from the poorest fifth of families did not live with a partner in 2012, compared with only one-in-seven men from high-income backgrounds

The study says this is the result both of lower rates of marriage and of higher rates of relationship breakdown amongst 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%). Amongst men born 12 years earlier, there was less difference in partnership status by family background.

  • Those from rich backgrounds paid more than twice as much in income tax and National Insurance as those from poor backgrounds in the year 2012

This reduces the intergenerational persistence in inequality, the report claimed: employed men from rich backgrounds have gross earnings 88% higher on average than those from poor backgrounds, but net incomes only 63% higher. The differential tax burden has grown over time.

  • Men from poorer backgrounds are twice as likely to be out of work as those from richer backgrounds

Only 7% of men growing up in the richest fifth of households were out of work at age 42 in 2012, 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 (11% rather than 4%). As men in work typically have more income than those not in paid work, this accentuates the level of intergenerational income persistence.

“This new research highlights the role of longitudinal studies in helping us understand how society is changing from generation to generation,” said Alison Park, director of CLOSER. “It shows how existing differences in the earnings of men from richer and poorer backgrounds are exacerbated by a new divide, with poorer men in their early 40s being less likely than those from wealthier backgrounds to be living with a partner.”


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