Are Equal Marriages More Likely to End In Divorce? Not According to This New Study

Good news, everybody: The death of the egalitarian marriage has been greatly exaggerated. Although earlier studies suggested that couples with equal educational attainment are more likely to divorce than couples in which the man is better educated, a more recent study supports the claim that nowadays equally educated spouses are less likely to divorce.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Northwestern University and forthcoming in the American Sociological Review, looked at trends in divorce for couples married between 2000 and 2004. As reported in the DailyMail, equally educated couples divorced significantly less:

couples... in which both individuals had the same level of education were about one-third less likely to divorce than those in which men had more academic qualifications.

This corroborates earlier findings that receiving more education may itself lower the divorce rate. Perhaps more gender-progressive people attend college, but it also seems likely that attending college makes people more gender-progressive.

I would recommend a bit of skepticism regarding these new findings, though. One reason that egalitarian marriages (in which partners are equally educated) have begun to fare better could just be because rich people still marry often while working class people are marrying less. In that case, it could just be money making the difference in marriages succeeding — not necessarily any changes in men's or women's attitudes toward who should be the breadwinner. The New York Times covered this angle lately, explaining that, as a solid marriage becomes increasingly difficult for lower-income Americans to maintain, the privileged few find marriage more rewarding than ever.

Also, as should go without saying, merely not divorcing doesn't indicate that a marriage is going fabulously. For instance, some evidence suggests that egalitarian marriages lead to less sex (or perhaps are a consequence of having less sex). Neither do we know whether equal education implies much about the marriage being genuinely "egalitarian." As additional generations of men and women experiment with assortative mating (e.g. marrying someone much like yourself, including educationally), we can expect to see additional studies confirming or denying its effects. In addition to its impact on divorce rates (or not), assortative mating contributes to income inequality, so it is a topic of political in addition to personal relevance.

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