Marriages Benefit From Reversal of Gender Gap in Education

In their article published in the latest issue of the American Sociological Review, Christine Schwartz (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Hongyun Han (Northwestern University) examine whether the reversal of the gender gap in education has affected the rate of marital dissolution in the U.S.

In the mid-1980s female college graduates started outnumbering male college graduates.  This decline and reversal of the gender gap in education has resulted in a growing number of marriages in which wives have more education than their husbands--a factor known to increase the likelihood of divorce.  At the same time however, partnerships have become more egalitarian; the breadwinner-homemaker ideal no longer dominates U.S. family life, and wives' higher levels of education may not pose as serious a threat to men's gender identity as household heads as they used to.

Using data from the National Survey of Family Growth (1973-2010), the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (1968-2009), the U.S. Census (1960-1980), and the Current Population Survey (1971-1995), Schwartz and Han set out to test the following four hypotheses:

  1. Marriages in which wives have the educational advantage were once more likely to dissolve, but this association has declined since the 1950s. 
  2. Marriages in which spouses share similar education levels are increasingly stable relative to other marriages.
  3. Marriages in which wives have the educational advantage are more likely to dissolve, and there has been little change in this association since the 1950s.
  4. The pace of decline in the positive relationship between wives' educational advantage and divorce accelerates as these relationships become more common.

Schwartz and Han found that:

  • hypogamous couples (couples in which wives have more education than their husbands) were once more likely to divorce than other couples, but this is no longer the case.
  • homogamous couples (couples in which both spouses have similar levels of education) have become less likely to divorce than hypergamous couples, whereas there was once no difference.
  • changes in these associations between 1950-54 and 2000-04 were large and cannot be explained by changes in spouses' earnings and employment.

The authors argue that these results
"provide an important counterpoint to claims that progress toward gender equality has stalled" and "speak against fears that women's educational success has had negative effects on their marital outcomes--at least with respect to wives' educational advantage and marital dissolution.  While these couples were once more likely to divorce, this is no longer the case."

Read more: resources:
Gender in STEM Education: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Economics of Education - Lecture Notes (
U.S. Population Education Tables (NCES) (
Marriage and Divorce (
Education in America (
Women's Education (
Trends in Marriage Behavior (
Family Change 1950-1990 (
Marital Trends (
Frederique Laubepin

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