Having a committed partner and good family relationships are important to most people. Countless novels, fairy tales and movies have told romantic stories about love that endear us to the idea of romantic love.
Sociologists, however, are less romantic. When it comes to falling in love, it’s not just fate or serendipity that bring people together—social factors matter.
How so? My research illustrates how our attitudes towards Mr. or Ms. Right are filtered through the lens of social norms.
Though some of us are too young to remember, about three decades ago, the marriage prospects of highly educated women were the subject of headlines and made the cover of Newsweek magazine in 1986.
The conventional wisdom was that women over 40 who had achieved a certain level of professional (and educational) goals had a lower marriageability.The memorable media messages produced strong feelings of anxiety in a lot of women. The story as portrayed in the romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle went like this: “It’s easier to be killed by a terrorist than it is to find a husband over the age of 40.”
Is it actually true? Do women who spend years in school getting a good education sacrifice their chances of getting married?
Actually, no. Research has consistently found that American women with at least a bachelor’s degree are more likely to get married and stay married than less educated women.
In fact, only a few years after the Newsweek story, family sociologist Andrew Cherlin debunked the misleading and incorrect messages about professional women’s marriage prospects.
Husband-wife education gaps.
In the United States, women lagged behind men in college completion before the 1980s, but by 2013, women earned about 60 per cent of bachelor’s and master’s degrees and half of all doctoral degrees.
My research took data from the 1980 U.S. Census and the 2008–2012 American Community Surveys to examine spousal pairings, and looked at education and income levels among newlywed couples. I found that between 1980 and 2008–2012, women were increasingly likely to marry men with less education than they had.
The proportion of couples in which the husband had more education than the wife dropped almost 10 percentage points, from 24 per cent in 1980 to 15 per cent in 2008–2012 (see the blue line in the zoomable graph, right). During the same period, the share of couples in which the wife had more education than the husband increased from 22 per cent to 29 per cent (the red line).
So, during 2008–2012 in the U.S., women were more likely than men to be the more educated spouse in marriage.
Since men have historically been expected to be the breadwinner and “the head of” the family, I wondered if these education pairings changed their breadwinner roles?
Does education equal more power in marriage?
The pairing between a better-educated wife and a less-educated husband does not mean that the wife is the person with greater resources or power in marriage.