Educated Women No Longer at Increased Risk of Divorce

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Women who are more educated than their husbands used to have a higher chance of divorce, but a new study found that this trend stopped in the 1990s.

A team of researchers examined statistics on heterosexual marriages in the United States from 1950 through 2009, and found changes over the decades in the rates of divorce. The study found that a woman's education was actually linked to a lower risk of divorce, at least from 2000 to 2004. That is, during that period, couples with equal levels of education were30 percent less likely to divorce than couples in which husbands were more educated than their wives.

That represents a change from the 1950s, when couples were just as likely to divorce whether or not they had the same level of education, or whether the husbands were more educated. [6 Scientific Tips for a Successful Marriage]

"These trends are consistent with a shift away from a breadwinner-homemaker model of marriage toward a more egalitarian model of marriage in which women's status is less threatening to men's gender identity," the study's lead researcher Christine Schwartz, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in a statement.

Before the early 1980s, husbands commonly had more education than their wives, the researchers found. But since then, more women than men have been earning college degrees, a trend that continues today.

For couples who married between 1950 and 1954, men completed about 12.4 years of education, compared to 12 years for their wives. In contrast, among people who married between 2005 and 2009, men averaged 13.8 years of schooling compared to 14.1 years for their wives.

In the early 1950s, women had more education than their husbands in about 35 percent of married couples. That percentage jumped to 60 percent among couples who tied the knot between 2005 and 2009, the researchers found.

"Rather than doggedly adhering to norms that wives should have lower status than their husbands, men and women are increasingly forming relationships in which women have the educational advantage — so much so that it is now more common for wives to have more education than their husbands than the reverse pattern," Schwartz said.

The study was published July 24 in the journal American Sociological Review.

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Laura Geggel

Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.