Wives' higher education may not affect divorce rate - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Wives' higher education may not affect divorce rate

Updated: Jul 27, 2014 02:13 PM
© iStockphoto.com / Justin Horrocks © iStockphoto.com / Justin Horrocks

(HealthDay News) -- Couples aren't more likely to get divorced if the wife has more education than the husband, new research finds.

The study only looks at trends in marriage, it doesn't prove that education levels play a direct role in affecting whether couples stay together or get divorced.

Still, "our results speak against fears that women's growing educational advantage over men has had negative effects on marital stability," Christine Schwartz, lead author of the study, said in an American Sociological Association news release.

"Further, the findings provide an important counterpoint to claims that progress toward gender equality in heterosexual relationships has stalled," said Schwartz, who is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The study also found that "couples in which both individuals have equal levels of education are now less likely to divorce than those in which husbands have more education than their wives," Schwartz said.

"These trends are consistent with a shift away from a breadwinner-homemaker model of marriage toward a more egalitarian model of marriage in which women's status is less threatening to men's gender identity," she noted.

The research focuses on heterosexual marriages in the United States from 1950 to 2009. Women began to finish college at higher levels than men in the 1980s, according to the study. Since that time, the wife has more education in a growing percentage of couples.

"Rather than doggedly adhering to norms that wives should have lower status than their husbands, men and women are increasingly forming relationships in which women have the educational advantage -- so much so that it is now more common for wives to have more education than their husbands than the reverse pattern," Schwartz said.

"The relationship between one's educational attainment, marriage formation, and risk of divorce appears to suggest that couples are adapting to the demographic reality that women have more education than men," she noted.

Couples married in the 1950s were just as likely to divorce whether the husband and wife had the same level of education or the husband had more. But more recently, married couples were one-third less likely to divorce if they had the same level of education compared to marriages where the husbands had more education.

The study appears in the August issue of the American Sociological Review.

More information

The National Women's History Museum has more on how societal views on women and education have changed over time.

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