Women, Marriage and College: Higher Education No Longer Prevents Weddings

What Women Really Think
April 11 2012 6:20 PM

College-Educated Women No Longer Risk Being "Old Maids"

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Study finds that women who go to college still get married

Yuri Arcus / Shutterstock.com

According to a new study by NYU sociologists Paula England and Jonathan Bearak prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families, college educated women are now as likely to get married as their less-educated peers—even if the weddings happen in a somewhat older age range. These findings contradict the previously prevailing idea that women who pursued higher education were more likely to delay finding a mate past some stereotypical “marriageable age” while studying and building demanding careers. The study reports that, “as late as 1950, a quarter of white female college graduates 40 years of age had never married, compared to compared to only 7 percent of their counterparts without a college degree.”  The latter category includes education levels ranging from less-than high school to some college.

England and Bearak explain the new paradigm:  

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[Now] by age 40, the well educated have caught up with the less educated and even surpassed them in the percent that have married. Thus, ultimately the more educated are as likely or even more likely to marry as any other group. 

Of course, this news may not matter much to those who don’t hold the institution of marriage in particular esteem as a life-goal, but even so, the findings are encouraging. For one thing, affirming that women can earn Bachelor’s degree or higher without sacrificing the potential to get hitched should finally put to rest any lingering notion that a young woman needs to choose between the two early-on. The study also shows that well-educated women (i.e. women who get married later in life) are less likely to get divorced, owing in part to the fact that young marriages demonstrate an increased likelihood of ending.

In terms of race, the delayed marriage boost that college education produces is far more pronounced for black women than for white women. While “black women have lower odds of ever marrying than white women … getting a college education raises ultimate marriage rates by the 30s and 40s much more substantially for blacks than whites.” Black women who don’t complete high school are far less likely to get married than any other group.

If nothing else, this study suggests that family values conservatives like Rick Santorum should stop blathering about the snobbishness of college—if he wants America to have more traditional families, it’s becoming a prerequisite.

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

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