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Pew Study Reveals Reversal of Marital Patterns


A recent national study reveals a reversal in long-standing marital patterns. College educated young adults are now more likely to have married by the age of 30 than those without a bachelor’s degree. The study also found a strong connection between education and the likelihood of divorce.


A recent Pew Research Center study found that since 1990, college-educated African American women have been more likely to marry than their counterparts with less education.


Pew Research Center reports the reversal of long-standing marital patterns. A recent study based on U.S. Census data revealed “college-educated young adults are more likely than young adults lacking a bachelor’s degree to have married by the age of 30.”

Pew reports that throughout the last century, America’s college-educated adults were less likely than their less-educated counterparts to be married by age 30. While studies have highlighted declining marriage rates among adults in their 20s since 1990 for both college-educated and those without a college degree, the new report shows a much steeper decline for young adults without a college education. The study also found college-educated African American women have been more likely to marry than their counterparts with less education.

When looking at overall marriage rates, the authors cited declining economic fortunes of young men without a college degree as a possible explanation for changing patterns.

“From 1990 to 2008, the inflation-adjusted median annual earnings of college-educated men ages 25 to 34 rose by 5% (to $55,000 in 2008 from $52,300 in 1990), while the median annual earnings of those with only a high school diploma declined by 12% (to $32,000 in 2008 from $36,300 in 1990). During this same time period, the number of cohabitating households (that is, partners of the opposite sex living together without being married) more than doubled. About half of all cohabiters are under age 35, and more than 80% do not have a college degree,” the report says, citing U.S. Census Bureau data.

The likelihood of divorce also correlates with educational attainment. The study found “in 2008, 2.9% of all married adults ages 35-39 who lacked a college diploma saw their first marriage end in divorce in the prior year, compared with just 1.6% of a comparably aged group that had a college education.”

More than a quarter century ago, the late Virginia Satir, a pioneer in the field of marriage and family therapy, addressed the changing patterns in marital relationships that have been increasingly highlighted in subsequent studies.

“As we moved into the 20th century, we arrived with a very clearly prescribed way that males and females in marriage were to behave with one another,” Satir wrote in an introduction to the PAIRS relationship and marriage education course in the early 1980s. “A new era has since dawned,” she continued. “The end of the dominant/submissive model in relationships was in sight. However, there was very little that had developed to replace the old pattern; couples floundered. New forms for the new values had not yet emerged, and the old ones were no longer acceptable.”

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