WHEN the middle-class daughter of former flight attendants who counts miners among her ancestors married the second in line to the throne last year, it was hailed as the ultimate breaking down of social class barriers.
Yet Kate Middleton's achievement in "marrying up" to become the Duchess of Cambridge is becoming increasingly rare, with more young British women choosing husbands from their own social class or lower, a new study has found.
Compared with their mothers, women in their twenties are less likely to marry men in a higher social class than their own, research by the IPPR think tank shows.
The authors suggest an entrenchment of social class and widening inequality over the past three decades have driven the phenomenon of "assortative mating", or picking a partner similar to yourself. The proportion of women "marrying down" has also exceeded those "marrying up" for the first time.
Researchers analysed the backgrounds and marriage choices of women born in 1958, 1970 and 1981 to see how female aspirations have changed across the generations. With post-war social mobility on the rise, women born in 1958 were more likely to "marry up" than "marry down". Some 38% of women of this generation chose a partner in a higher social class, while 23% married someone from a lower class. A total of 39% married someone in the same class.
Madonna, who was born in 1958, may be a multimillionaire but has working-class roots and married film director Guy Ritchie, who has noble ancestry.
For those born in 1970, the proportion of women marrying someone in a higher social class fell to 32%, although this was still more than those "marrying down", at 23%. Those marrying someone from the same social class accounted for 45%.
TV personality Zoe Ball, whose father was a TV presenter, chose someone from the same middle-class background as hers when she married Norman Cook, the son of a teacher.
However, today's generation of brides, born between 1976 and 1981, is for the first time more likely to "marry down" than "marry up".
While the majority, 56%, marry in the same class, those choosing a spouse from a lower social class account for 28% while only 16% of women are marrying men from higher social backgrounds.
One women born in 1981 who, it could gently be argued, "married down" is Princess Anne's daughter Zara Phillips, who wed the middle-class rugby player Mike Tindall last year.