While it’s probably not very Christian to say “I told you so” and do a little victory jig, I kinda can’t resist: New research came out this week that proves my demographic predictions about education and marriage from 2006 correct. In addition to some good-news data for college-educated young adults, there’s also a lesson to learn — one that you haven’t seen in the newspaper articles of the last few days. Here’s the story:
For years, newspapers and magazines have run stories about the so-called plight of the educated woman. The conventional wisdom was that women with a college or graduate degree were overqualified for love and unattractive to men. Social critics worried about this “success penalty” and predicted a crisis of smart but unhappy spinsters.
Fast forward to 2010 and think again: College-educated women under the age of 40 are just as likely to marry as their less-educated sisters, according to Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends project analysis of sixty years of Census data released this week; and researchers are waiting for the “crossover” in the next few years where the marriage rates of these female college grads will surpass those of women with less education.
I predicted this demographic change in 2006 in Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women (and in several articles here on BustedHalo.com), arguing that the success penalty was a thing of the past for young women. Over 90 percent of men 25 to 40 say they are seeking — or already married to — a woman as or more intelligent, according to a nationally representative survey commissioned for my research. Forget what your grandmother told you: Smart is sexy.
Indeed, good news for educated Americans abounds in this week’s Pew report. Men and women of all educational backgrounds are delaying marriage, but college-educated young adults are slightly more likely to marry by age 30 and significantly more likely to marry by age 40. Among 35-to-39-year-olds, four-fifths of college-educated adults have married but only three-quarters of less educated adults have married. Perhaps most importantly, college graduates are more likely to be financially stable within those unions and less likely to divorce.
Why? What is it about a college degree that helps people have happier marriages?
A college degree is a desirable trait in a mate, as an investment both in future earnings and in interesting dinner conversation. In mate-preference rankings, education/intelligence is in the top five most essential qualities in a mate — ranked with love, maturity and dependability — for both men and women, while in the 1930s it ranked 11th for men and 9th for women, according to research I’m conducting with Christie Boxer at the University of Iowa. (Want more on this? Check out a column I wrote a while back discussing these mate-preference trends.)
In addition, marriage has clear economic benefits, the Pew study notes: In 2008 the typical married adult had an adjusted household income of $76,652 versus $54,470 for the typical unmarried adult. And, as the Pew report notes, those with a college degree are less likely to experience divorce and multiple marriages than those without a college degree.
Easily measurable factors like income and job opportunities are only part of the explanation for why college graduates have stronger marriages. Attitudes and outlook toward the future matter, too: Families that raise their children with an eye toward the future — a college degree — are also families that tend to place values on other long-term commitments like marriage. Raising children to devote time and energy to education means asking them to be future-oriented — to have greater self-control, and hope for an upwardly mobile future. These ideas are on shaky ground during tough economic times, but they are building blocks that lead to not just marriage and relationship longevity, but prosperity and happiness.
A strong faith life is a great benefit, too. Our Catholic teachings tell us to honor our commitments and to serve God through the sacraments. These callings are all asking us to be future-oriented: They require self-control, hope and faith. Education is strongly encouraged by the Church because it’s a way for us to better discern the work of God in our lives, to ask the right questions and to understand the reasons behind Church teachings.
This Pew study is great news for those with a college degree, but the picture is a lot less rosy for those without a college degree (something that will be the subject of a future column in this space because it’s a big issue that deserves to be addressed separately.) One clear message of this recent research is a call to put aside the outdated conventional wisdom — because young, educated men and women are doing just fine in their careers and in love — and turn our attention to providing those same advantages to more members of future generations. The other, more subtle message of these findings is that we must encourage future-orientation in its many iterations — through education and a rich faith life — to help married couples keep their commitments strong.