Study Shows College Marriage Gap

Special Report - October 22, 2010

In a change from the historical norm, college-educated young adults are now more likely than their peers without a college degree to be married by age 30, although marriage in both groups has dropped significantly since 1990. According to new data from the Pew Research Center, “[i]n 2008, 62 percent of college-educated 30-year-olds were married or had been married, compared with 60 percent of 30-year-olds who did not have a college degree.” In comparison, three-fourth of 30-year-olds without a college degree were married in 1990, while 69 percent of their college-educated peers were married. The report, “The Reversal of the College Marriage Gap,” was released on October 7, 2010.

For the first time ever, the median age at first marriage for young adults without a college degree was the same as for young adults who hold a college degree—28. In 2000, there was a two-year gap between the two groups, with 26 being the average age of marriage for adult without a college degree.

Women are just as likely to marry, and at a similar time, regardless of whether they hold a college degree, which is a change from 1990, when less-educated women were more likely to marry and at a younger age than were their more-educated peers. However, “the probability of marriage by educational attainment levels has remained unchanged among men,” the report notes. The report found virtually no difference between college-educated men and those without bachelor’s degrees.

The report cites the declining economy as a possible explanation for the shift, which may influence the growing number of men without a college degree who choose to cohabit rather than marry their partner. In inflation-adjusted median annual earnings by college-educated men ages 25 to 34 rose by five percent between 1990 and 2008. During the same period, the earnings of the same group of men who had only a high school diploma declined by 12 percent. At the same time, the number of cohabitating couples more than doubled. About half of those cohabiting couples are younger than age 35, and more than 80 percent lack a college degree.

The report also compared the income of married and unmarried individuals. It found that “[m]arried adults tend to be better off, economically, than unmarried adults, and the declining marriage propensities of young adults who are not college-educated have exacerbated their economic challenges.” In 2008, married adults boasted an adjusted annual median household income nearly $25,000 higher than unmarried adults—$77,000. This is partly due to the increase in multi-income households among married couples. However, even “in households with the same number of earners, married adults remain better off” with a median adjusted household income in 2008 for single-income homes that was $10,000 higher than their unmarried counterparts. For the past 50 years, one statistic has stayed relatively stable. “Married adults without a college education had a median household income that was 34 percent higher than the median income of unmarried adults lacking a college degree,” according to the report.

In 2008, divorces were less common among the college educated than among those without a college diploma. However, the report notes that this is not a data set that can be accurately compared over time.

Related resources:
Index Shows Marriage Health Decline - October 7, 2009
Characteristics of Cohabiting Adults Studied - July 16, 2009
The Benefits of Marriage - FNC - Nov/Dec 2008

Copyright © 2010. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.

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