November 27, 2013

The links between education, marriage and parenting

FT_Educ_DifferencesNew data released this week from the U.S. Census Bureau reaffirm the strong linkage between educational attainment and the marital status and living arrangements of parents of minor children.

Among parents who live with a child under the age of 18, 89% of college graduates are married, compared with 64% of parents with less than a high school diploma and 70% of those with just a high school diploma.

Marriage has been on the decline for decades, particularly for those with less education. At the same time, the share of non-marital births for the less educated has risen dramatically, and the likelihood of divorce remains significantly higher among those lacking a college degree than among those who have one.

Not only is there an educational gap in the likelihood of  parents living with their minor children being married, but there is a gender gap as well.

Just over half (53%) of  mothers who lack a high school diploma and who live with their children are married, as compared with 78% of dads with the same educational level. These gender differences narrow considerably — but still persist — among the most educated. Some 84% of moms who have a bachelor’s degree and live with their children are married, compared with 95% of dads with a bachelor’s degree.

These gender gaps are largely driven by differences in the patterns of single parenting. While the share of single parents who are dads has risen dramatically, it’s still the case that most single parents are moms.

And since divorce and non-marital births are more prevalent among the less educated, that means single parents — particularly single moms — are more prevalent, as well. Approximately 30% of moms with less than a college degree who live with their kids are living without a spouse or partner, as compared with 7% of comparable dads. In comparison, 13% of college-educated moms who live with their kids are living without a spouse or partner, as are 3% of comparable dads.

NOTE: References to a “high school degree” have been changed to a “high school diploma.”

Topics: Demographics, Family and Relationships, Marriage and Divorce

  1. Photo of Gretchen Livingston

    is a senior researcher focusing on fertility and family demographics at Pew Research Center.


  1. LEN3 years ago

    What can I Ido to encourage my children to go to college? I only have my high school degree/

    1. erika2 years ago

      value of money and responsibilities. my mother was a teen mom and always taught us the value of money and how she struggled as a teen mom with a 8th grade education. nonetheless, my brother is a civil engineer and im working on my masters is psychology.

  2. Alex4 years ago

    This data alone is pretty inconclusive.

    There are many many reasons why those who are more educated aren’t divorced. Could be because of the kids, because they waited longer while they were in college, because they were smarter about making (what should be) a life decision, because the kind of people who earn their BA are more willing to work at something that isn’t necessarily very easy, because the kind of families that raise successful children are more likely to pass on a high value for family, and the list goes on.

  3. Peg VanGundy4 years ago

    A survey of student achievement will show a similar kind of chart using schooling level of parents and the success of the children as is evident in this study.

  4. Mike4 years ago

    The issues originate with why the Mom didn’t go to college in the first place. If you look deeper I suspect you’ll find the reason divorced Mom’s didn’t go to college is very close to the reason they are divorced. Probably has a lot to do with the people with whom they chose to associate.

  5. Al4 years ago

    I like the article for its lack of extrapolation – good reporting of data. I would like to see data that sheds some light about what about education keeps families together. Is it the knowledge gained from education in itself or rather the risk of loss of the resources gained as a result of the degree/education received. I don’t think education keeps men in marriages, rather men (and women) give up on their family when there is nothing to be gained from staying in it. My hypothesis is that uneducated men simply have less to lose from leaving. The government can’t ask you to pay child support is you don’t have any income. On the other hand, (for “educated men”) if you’re going to be paying for your child might as well get a tax deduction for it and avoid becoming a social pariah in the process. I have read studies about how this difference in attitudes (to stay as a family unit) supposedly based on education disappear when you compare non-custodial parents (educated or uneducated) after they have lost custody of their children.

  6. WarrenH4 years ago

    Statistics aren’t everything. They do suggest some interesting ideas.
    There are political groups who make every effort to dumb-down the American population.
    Poorly educated people of all races have trouble coming close to attaining the American dream.
    There are individuals and groups who use this for political advantage.
    These individuals and groups are NOT concerned about improving living standards and education standards. That defeats their purpose.
    They need and thrive on discontent, envy, and disrespect of successful individuals.
    The individuals, groups, and political parties that feed off of disgruntled individuals are worse than the meanest capitalist.
    This great country had a sad history of slavery. IT was eliminated with the Civil War, War of Northern Aggression, the War between the states.
    We have a new form of slavery today. It is the welfare state.
    There are many types of welfare. In the United States find the one you like the best.
    Then remember to vote for the person who promises to keep you there.
    The people who give you welfare tell your they respect you, they don’t.

    this great country

  7. David Felker4 years ago

    When I was in grad school, 30 yrs ago, it was thought that formal marriage would quickly become a thing of the past. While now, even with socially necessary modifications marriage has been heavily continued among my compatriots. Anticipation isn’t typically on the mark, now is it…

    1. Alex4 years ago

      I pity your generation then, or at least as they were then, to not think that marriage was an important part of love between a couple. Because love is much deeper than temporary desire, or even a warm fuzzy feeling you get. To love someone is to actively want to make radical and selfless decisions for the good of the other. And when you mutually share that kind of love with another, you’ll understand it in a whole new way, and your love and marriage is going to strive.

      1. John S4 years ago

        Marriage is as much about committment as love. (I’d like to see stats on arranged marriages vs. choice marriages). Typically marriages last because people are committed for one reason or another. Love is normally a main component, if not the primary one. But often religious, moral, ethnic, and/or family committments and beliefs are strong enough to hold a marriage together even if a couple ‘falls out’ of love.

        Considering the religious, moral, and family decay, along with the loss of ethnic identitiy in the west it’s no suprise that ‘love’ itself doesn’t keep people together so well. I’m not intending to make any judgments, just saying that education (and by extension money) is merely a small piece of the puzzle.

  8. Charles Weishar4 years ago

    The writer should be informed that high schools do not issue degrees. Completion of high school education warrants a diploma. Only colleges provide degrees. One wonders what level of education was achieved by the writer.

    1. WarrenH4 years ago

      It is the idea, not the words that matter, Not even the proper grammar.

      1. John S4 years ago

        Your rite, it’s the principal of the matter. Dud, ewe should be complemented, knot be rated. You halve a sharp, salacious, mined. Your words are full of arbor, and a refuse in thymes of woah!

    2. Gretchen Livingston4 years ago

      Thanks for the correction. We’ve updated the post accordingly.

  9. Stephen Swain4 years ago

    “non-marital birth”? Is that what it’s called now? I wondered. I would call it: Sperm-Honor Missing-In-Action Syndrome. What is it with these people that just make babies and then don’t stick around to raise them? I suppose most or many of the SD-MIAs didn’t have dads in their lives on a reliable basis, either. That, at least, provides a precedent.

    This is not just a sad statistic. It’s a disaster! Children need two parents. Being a child is hard work, and being a single-parent is horribly difficult and stressful. As a people, we need to really work on this challenge. I mean WORK on it, hard!