Here's What Apparently Happens When Poor People Marry Rich People

Photographed By Rockie Nolan.
Interracial and interfaith marriages are on the rise in the U.S., and as a society we're even starting to discuss inter-political dating (and its attendant pitfalls). What we aren't talking about? Marriage between people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, a.k.a. cross-class marriage (granted, class is inextricably linked with race and other cultural constructs). As New York Magazine's Jesse Singal reports, Jessi Streib — assistant professor of Sociology at Duke University and author of the new book The Power of the Past: Understanding Cross-Class Marriages — is opening that conversation.

NY Mag interviewed Streib on her book, for which she spoke with 32 married couples from different socioeconomic classes. Streib's findings on how class differences can actually bring couples closer — instead of driving them apart, as sociologists have traditionally maintained — are striking:

Often, [people] who grew up in blue-collar families grew up in class conditions that were really unstable, and what we know about growing up in those conditions is sometimes people internalize a feeling that the world is an unstable place, that bad things could happen at any moment. So they met these [people] who didn’t think bad things could happen at any moment, who in fact thought that was quite unlikely, and that sense of stability, that the world was all right, was really alluring to them... People from more privileged class backgrounds would say,'My partner just has this family that’s so expressive emotionally and so intimate, and they hang out with each other in a way that’s kind of unimaginable in my family, and they’re just so close.'

Streib observed that individuals from white-collar backgrounds tend to display a more "managerial" relationship style than their blue-collar spouses, spending more time processing their thoughts and planning how to phrase them before sharing them with their partners; blue-collar spouses are more likely to express unfiltered opinions. Of course, these patterns are generalizations, but Streib states that they appear to play a part in the harmony — or lack thereof — of cross-class relationships.

Relationship harmony, Streib says, happens when partners appreciate one another's differences rather than attempting to reform them. "Some of the people that I interviewed married people with the very idea that they were going to change them," Streib stated. "That’s not going to work... it’s just going to be a frustrating experience for both people." Sound advice for all couples, regardless of class background.
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