A new study by the American Sociological Review found that while marriages between educational equals are still more common, women are increasingly likely to have an educational edge. But since the 90s, however, the study shows that such couples do not have a higher divorce rate than other couples. In fact, they may even be less likely to divorce than couples in which men are more educated, however the data on that point is not clear, say researchers.
Since the 1970s, women not only began closing the gender gap in education, but have reversed it entirely. U.S. Department Education statistics for the 2009-2010 school year show women passing men at all levels of postsecondary education, earning 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 63 percent of master’s degrees.
In earlier eras, marriages in which wives were more educated were less likely to last. Why? Theories include that couples with less traditional relationships were more prone to divorce for a multitude of reasons, and also that less-educated men felt threatened by their wives’ successes.
Researchers say it’s the latest sign that heterosexual marriages in the United States are becoming less bound by traditional gender expectations, and lead author Christine Schwartz, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison says it’s a sign that couples are embracing a new normal. “It’s a big social change,” and the fact that it does not seem to be making marriages less stable ought to dispel “a lot of fear and anxiety,” Schwartz says. “Young people today strongly believe in egalitarian marriage — even if they don’t always follow it in practice,” she said.
Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, has this to say: “”We are seeing on a great many fronts a greater comfort among men with women who are their equals or perhaps even know more than they do,” Coontz says. Many women also are getting more comfortable with men who may earn less or have less education.”
Veronica Tichenor, an associate professor of sociology at State University of New York Institute of Technology at Utica/Rome, tempers the enthusiasm by saying “there’s plenty of evidence that we have a very long way to go,” toward equality and flexibility in marriage. “There’s still this sense that men should be providers and women should be caregivers, even if they do other things too,” Tichenor says.
Husbands still tend to make more money than wives and wives tend to do more work around the home, she says. She says wives who have more education or income than their husbands may even feel more pressure to fill traditional roles at home, not just to please their husbands but to conform to slow-to-change cultural expectations.