College-educated women more likely to get married and stay married than high school dropouts

The Real Housewives of Trad have disseminated variations of a meme positing that women must choose between advanced educational attainment and having a fulfilling family life. This assertion is not only a false dichotomy but one that ignores the data demonstrating that more educated women are far more likely to get married and stay married than less educated women.

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study on baby boomers, 86% of women who didn’t finish high school had ever been married by age 46 compared to 90% of those women who obtained at least a bachelor’s degree. But while fewer than a third of women who graduated college had ever been divorced, the majority of high school dropouts had been divorced at least one. In total among women, about two-thirds of high school dropouts were either unmarried or divorced at least once compared to just two-fifths of college graduates.

The Pew Research Center confirmed the general trend that higher educational attainment correlates with higher marriage rates. Among adults ages 25 and older, nearly two-thirds of those who at least have a bachelor’s degree are married versus half of high school graduates and dropouts. College dropouts are smack in between, with a 55% marriage rate.

Break down the data even further, and postgraduate education continues to reap rewards for women. Census data indicate that women with doctoral and professional degrees are 5% more likely than women with bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees to be married by their 40s, and while marriage rates have continued to plummet among women who never finished college, with high school dropouts suffering the most precipitous drop in marriage rates, marriage rates among college graduates have actually stabilized and rebounded in recent years.

While there is a bit of awfully old data that indicates that women who earn more as a share of household income are more likely to file for divorce than those who earn less or none, women achieving higher educational levels or earning potential doesn’t seem to cause divorces. The majority of divorces cite lack of commitment, superfluous arguing, and infidelity as reasons behind a marriage’s breakdown, indicating that women who earn more only divorce in greater numbers because they feel financially secure enough to subsist on their own incomes after a split.

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Furthermore, women with a bachelor’s degree are now more likely to marry men without one than the reverse case of college-educated men marrying noncollege-educated women. Analysis from the Institute of Family Studies shows that while the majority of married men with a bachelor’s degree were married to noncollege graduates in the 1970s, now fewer than a third are. Compared to married men who graduated college, married women who graduated college are more likely to marry noncollege graduates. If anything, this revealed preference proves that women are more comfortable with marrying less educated men, while men prefer their intellectual equals, the opposite of the stereotype of the executive who leaves his wife for his secretary.

Correlation obviously does not prove causation, and aggregate data are not reason alone to determine an individual decision. Plenty of degree programs have a negative return on investment over a lifetime, and taking out five to six figures of debt to “find yourself” is a terrible rationale rather than an actual plan to use a university to achieve marketable skills, internships, research opportunities, and references. But if one has a daughter he or she wishes to achieve the wonderful blessing that is marriage, he or she ought to encourage her to pursue higher education rather than dissuade her.

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