Study: Women ‘marrying down’ as men become less educated
A study shows that a record number of women are struggling to find marriageable men who have attained the same level of academic achievement, but they still overwhelmingly prefer husbands who are the primary breadwinners.
More than a quarter of wives, 25.3 percent, have attained higher levels of education than their husbands, according to data released this week by the Institute for Family Studies. The inverse — marriages in which husbands are more educated — constitute a slightly lower share at 24.5 percent.
Wendy Wang, author of the report and director of research at the Institute for Family Studies, said her research provides a new answer to the age-old question, “Where have all the good men gone?”
“If you ask a lot of single women in major metropolitan areas with college degrees, you would probably hear a lot of that,” Ms. Wang said. “It is hard. If you look at the pool, it’s true because overall we see that women are more educated than men. So if you’re a woman who wants to marry someone with a college education, your chances go down. There aren’t as many men in the pool, so some women have to marry men without a college education.”
The trend shows no signs of slowing. The share of unions in which the husband is more educated than the wife peaked in 1990 at 25.6 percent and plateaued for two decades. Marriages in which the husband is less educated than the wife, meanwhile, more than doubled over that period.
The data are even more pronounced among newlyweds. In 2015, 32 percent of all newlywed women and 20 percent of men married people with inferior education levels.
In 1960, women “married down” just 7.1 percent of the time and “married up” in 14.6 percent of cases.
The data also show that marriages in which husbands and wives have the same level of education are becoming less common. In 1960, 78 percent of all unions were between partners with equal educations. By 2015, that statistic had dropped to 50 percent.
Marriages between two college graduates now make up 9 percent of all unions, up from 2 percent in 1960. Another 6 percent of unions are between spouses who both have graduate degrees.
Women began to outpace men in college enrollment and graduation in the 1990s. According to a survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Center, the share of women ages 18 to 24 enrolled in college nearly doubled from 1967 to 2009, from 19 percent to 44 percent. Over that same span, the percentage of college-age men attending school increased from 33 percent to 38 percent.
The share of women ages 25 to 29 with at least a bachelor’s degree quadrupled over that period, from 9 percent to 36 percent, while the male completion rate went from 16 percent to 28 percent.
But higher levels of education have not correlated with higher earnings for women.
Despite their comparative lack of education, men are still overwhelmingly more likely to be the primary earners in their families. More than 7 out of 10 husbands, 73 percent, take home more money than their wives. Women make more money than men in just 24.8 percent of all marriages.
The male breadwinner model even applies to newlyweds who have less-traditional views about gender roles. In 67 percent of unions consummated in 2015, men were the primary earners despite being more educated than their wives just 20 percent of the time.
Overall, husbands who are less educated than their wives have higher salaries 60 percent of the time. “Despite women’s gains in education and the workplace in recent decades,” the study notes, “the traditional pattern in dating and marriage persists.”
“Even when women ‘marry down’ educationally,” it says, “they continue to ‘marry up’ in income.”
Indeed, when asked what they look for in a partner, never-married women still say a steady job and financial security are top priorities. Never-married men, meanwhile, are more likely to prefer partners who share their ideas about raising a family.
Ms. Wang said further research is necessary to gauge the stability of marriages in which wives are more educated than their husbands, and vice versa. But she did acknowledge that the female desire for husbands who are primary earners is at odds with their comparative academic merit.
“It’s an issue in terms of family formation, because we see that women are more educated and that it’s harder to find a man with a good job that can support a family in a traditional sense,” Ms. Wang said. “And women still hold the traditional view; they haven’t changed their ideal partner criteria. It’s just harder to find that person.”
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