However, sociologists are not romantic. It’s not only luck or fate that brings people together when it comes to love. Social factors also matter.
What do you think? My research shows how we view Mr. Social norms are used to filter our attitudes towards Mr. or Ms.
Newsweek magazine, 1986, featured a cover story about the marriage prospects for highly educated women.
The memorable messages caused anxiety among many women. In the romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle, the story is told as follows: “It is easier to get killed by a terrorist than to find a man over 40.”
Conventional wisdom held that women who were over 40 and had reached a certain level in their professional (and education) goals had a reduced marriageability.
Is this really true? Does a woman who spends years in school to get a good education reduce her chances of marrying?
Actually, no. According to research, American women who have at least a Bachelor’s Degree are more likely than women without a degree to marry and remain married.
Andrew Cherlin, a family sociologist, debunked the false and misleading messages about the marriage prospects of professional women just a few short years after the Newsweek article.
Husband-wife education gaps
Before the 1980s, women in the United States were behind men when it came to completing college. By 2013, however, women had earned 60% of all bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and 50% of all doctoral degrees.
In my research, I used data from the U.S. Census of 1980 and the American Community Surveys 2008-2012 to examine the married pairs and examined the education and income levels of newlyweds. I found that women are more likely to marry men who have less education. This trend increased between 1980 and 2008.
In 2013, 60 percent of bachelor’s degree holders in the U.S. were women. Andre Hunter/Unsplash
The changes in education between heterosexual couples between 1980 and 2012. The author provided the data (no re-use).
In the zoomable graph on the right, the proportion of couples where the husband has more education than his wife fell by almost ten percentage points. From 24 percent in 1980 to 15 percent in 2008-2012. In the same period, the proportion of couples where the wife has more education than her husband rose from 22% to 30% (the red line).
During 2008-2012, in the U.S., women were more likely to be married to a spouse who was more educated than men.
I was curious if the education pairs would change the traditional roles of men as breadwinners and the “head” of the family.
Is education a better way to get married?
When a wife with a higher education marries a less educated husband, it does not necessarily mean that she has more resources or power.
Women continue to marry men who earn more than they do. It is not surprising that women still make less per year than men, and the breadwinning husband norm continues to persist .
Women are more likely to marry men who earn more than they do. Sebastian Pichler/Unsplash
In my research, I found that women were more likely to “marry down” when it came to education if they wanted to “marry upward” in terms of income. Men and women tend to marry in marriages where the wife’s social economic status is not higher than that of her husband.
Men may have, over the years, placed greater importance on the financial prospects of potential spouses, but they might only value a woman’s high social status up until their partner’s position exceeds theirs. Men may be reluctant to marry women with higher education or income.
Since income inequality has risen dramatically over the past few decades, women might lose more by marrying down in terms of economic status.
‘Leftover ladies’ in China
In the U.S., highly educated women and men are more likely to marry than their less-educated peers. In contrast, high-educated women in China (but not men) can have a difficult time finding a partner.
Chinese women outpace men in college enrollment. In my previous research, I found that the chances of women finding a partner for marriage decreased as their education increased, while the odds for men rose.
Chinese media and public refer to these single, urban women with high education as “leftover lady.” The low marriage prospects for highly educated Chinese women are directly related to the roles of husbands and wife in the family.
Women in China are less likely to find a partner as their education level increases. Photo: Shandong Middle Rd, Shanghai. Yiran Ding/Unsplash
In Chinese families, the breadwinner and homemaker roles are still very much in place. In the context of this article, women who are career-oriented are often criticized for being “selfish,” non-feminine,” and “irresponsible” to household needs.
In China, men still marry women who have less education than them, contrary to the U.S. where men tend to marry women better educated.
The U.S. and China contrast in marriage patterns, suggesting that structural factors such as gender norms within society play an important part in determining individual marriage prospects.
Men were expected to marry women less educated than they themselves. In the past, when college education was rare and men had a higher education than women, this norm worked. In the U.S. cultural evolution of mate preference correlates with changes in men’s education and women’s.
This is not true in urban China. A movement towards gender equality does not accompany social change. High-educated Chinese women are unlikely to benefit from a male breadwinner and female homemaker marriage. Instead, they may delay or forgo marriage.
We would like to know more about the impact of the increasing female advantage on marriage and family life.
Marriage is not a matter of fate or love. Instead, social factors such as education and gender norms are important.