What does a college education have to do with the future of your marriage? College graduates are half as likely to get divorced. Money still can't buy you love, but the financial stability of a college degree can help put your relationship on solid ground. You knew college would boost your career, but could it strengthen your relationships too? It turns out college grads get all the breaks–both in the workplace and in the home. Besides taking home a paycheck 84% bigger than a high school grad (an average $9000 more per year), they’re half as likely to divorce. Here’s a closer look at the power of a college degree to keep your life on track.
More Education, Less Divorce: The Facts
News from the marriage front has been encouraging since divorce rates peaked in the 1970s. Since 1980, divorce rates have steadily declined. By 2002, the proportion of failed marriages stood at 31%–reassuring data given the infamous 70s-era prediction that ‘half of all marriages will end in divorce.’ By 2005, sociologists had already reassessed that 50% rate, estimating that in fact 41% of marriages failed in the 1970s. But no matter how sociologists slice the data, the fact remains that divorce rates have been on the decline since 1980.
Great news! But it turns out not everyone has benefited. While college graduates have hit an unprecedented low of 20%, the divorce rate of non-graduates has actually risen since the 1970s. The most dramatic difference is evident in women who married between 1990 and 1994; 16% of college graduates divorced within the first ten years of marriage, compared to 35% of non-graduates. Extrapolating these results beyond the ten year mark, those numbers could look more like 25% for graduates versus over 50% for non-graduates. In other words, the slight decrease in overall divorce rates actually represents a dramatic decline in divorce among college graduates, and an increase among non-graduates.
What’s behind the ‘divorce divide’? Can a college degree really save your marriage? Sociologists offer a variety of explanations for the surprising correlation between college education and marital fidelity. A college degree is a ticket to the middle class. College graduates enjoy more career options, more money, greater employability, more job security, more control over their work schedules, and more independence. It boils down to this: a college degree gives you options and financial security, and personal stability leads to stronger marriages.
Options: Look Before You Leap
First, college graduates are more likely to put off marriage until they find the right partner, and less likely to marry for any reason other than emotional compatibility. Sociologists observe that “women with less than a college degree often face considerable uncertainty about marriage partners; conversely, young adults with college degrees������� are unlikely to enter an uncertain marriage.” Educated women are delaying marriage and children into their early 30s: “they are staying flexible and investing in their careers–waiting until they have more information on how their career will play out.” College graduates have the option to see the world, develop their careers, and find their path in life before settling down with a partner. Marriage is an active choice rather than a social expectation.
Money: A Stable Foundation
Once a college graduate ties the knot, he or she is also less likely to face the number one cause of divorce: financial insecurity. Fifty-seven percent of divorced couples in the United States cite financial problems as the primary reason for the failure of their marriage, according to a survey by Citibank. Researchers attribute the rising divorce rate among non-graduates to “declining economic circumstances for middle and lower income women and men,” which in turn “impede the formation of stable families.”
Money can’t buy you love, but it can remove some of the risk factors for divorce. The earning power that comes with a college degree can eliminate financial stress, a major source of strife in many relationships. There is enough money to ensure that basic needs are met. Debts can be paid off. Long-term financial plans and investments can be made, thanks to job security. Quality healthcare is a given, thanks to the generous benefits packages college-educated employees enjoy. Families can afford to take vacations together.
Quality of Life
And then there are the less quantifiable benefits of a better job. As Washington, D.C. therapist Olivia Mellan observes, it’s not the money that keeps a marriage together. “It’s what the money represents: dependency, control, freedom, security, pleasure, self-worth.” College graduates tend to have more control over work hours. Couples can spend more time together. Parents can be there for their child’s Little League game. Multiple jobs are no longer necessary to make ends meet, and families may live comfortably on a single income. Security, control, and a general sense of wellbeing produce a sense of self-confidence. All these qualities translate into stronger relationships with a spouse and family.
Sociologist Steven D. Martin, who first called attention to the ‘divorce divide,’ also cites cultural differences among college-educated adults. He quotes social critic David Blankenhorn: “a steady shift in popular and especially elite opinion that took place over the course of the 1990s. Concern and even alarm������� about the consequences of nuclear family decline became much more common.” That shift in values did not extend to the less educated and more economically vulnerable population, however. “In a time of increasing economic uncertainty for couples of middle and lower education levels, marriage is also uncertain, and a harmful marriage a realistic possibility.” In an economically unsustainable union, divorce looks more like an unfortunate necessity than a lack of commitment.
Jumping the Divorce Divide with an Online Degree
The relationship between a college degree and a healthy marriage should be encouraging news for adults considering going back to school. “Some people are hesitant about going back to school because they worry it will take too much time away from their families,” observes one education counselor. Research shows that the reverse is true. In the long run, a college degree can free up more time for family, and improve everyone’s quality of life.
In addition, online education makes it easy to have your family time and your college education too. You can work toward your undergraduate degree from home, saving time spent commuting to campus and sitting in the library. Bringing education into the home involves the whole family in a common goal. “A parent’s commitment to education and self-improvement provides a powerful model for children,” explains ELearners’ online education columnist. “Your online learning gives your kids the opportunity to contribute to the household and support you in a meaningful and direct way.” Make your online college degree a team effort, and you’ll strengthen rather than strain your relationships.
College education is no longer an option in today’s economy–it’s a ticket to a solid financial footing and a stable family. Couples without the career options a college degree provides face an uphill battle. Fortunately many colleges have taken their degree programs online, ensuring that all adults have access to higher education. Today, nearly half of all adults are enrolled in formal education, and 39% of college students are over age 25. You can earn your college degree, even if you’re juggling marriage, kids, a full-time job, or all of the above. Your future–and your family’s–depends on it.
Back to School Survival Guide, ELearners
Money Isn’t the Culprit in Most Divorces, CNN Money
“Divergent Trends in Educational Attainment and Attitudes towards Marital Dissolution from 1974-2000: An Emergent Source of Societal Inequality?” Paper presented at the American Sociological Association (Aug. 16, 2003)
“Divorce Rate: It’s Not as High as You Think,” The New York Times (April 19, 2005)
“I Do’s & Don’ts: How Changes in Marriage, Divorce & Childbirth are Redefining the Workplace,” HRTools.com
Steven P. Martin, “An Education Crossover in Divorce Attitudes,” University of Maryland (July 1003)
Publish date: August 28, 2007