February 12, 2014

Record share of wives are more educated than their husbands

DN_Marry_DownIt used to be more common for a husband to have more education than his wife in America. But now, for the first time since Pew Research has tracked this trend over the past 50 years, the share of couples in which the wife is the one “marrying down” educationally is higher than those in which the husband has more education.

Among married women in 2012, 21% had spouses who were less educated than they were—a threefold increase from 1960, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of Census data.

The share of couples where the husband’s education exceeds his wife’s increased steadily from 1960 to 1990, but has fallen since then to 20% in 2012.

DN_Share_DeclinesThe trend toward wives being more educated than their husbands is even more prevalent among newlyweds, partly because younger women have surpassed men in higher education in the past two decades. In 2012, 27% of newlywed women married a spouse whose education level was lower than theirs. By contrast, only 15% of newlywed men married a spouse with less education. Among college educated newlyweds (including those with postgraduate and advanced degrees), nearly four-in-ten women (39%) married a spouse without a college degree, but only 26% of men did so.

Another important trend has to do with marriages between spouses with similar education levels. Even though college graduates are increasingly more likely to marry each other, the overall share of couples of similar education levels is down from nearly 80% in 1960 to about 60% in 2012.

The primary reason for the decline in the share of married couples with similar education levels is that marriages between spouses with high school or less than high school education are much less common these days — the share is down from 74% of all marriages in 1960 to 24% in 2012. In addition, adults with high school or less education are much less likely to marry. The marriage rate among this group plummeted —from 72% in 1960 to 46% in 2012.

Just the opposite has occurred among college graduates. The share of couples in which both spouses have a college degree has risen steadily in recent decades. In 1960, only 3% of couples were in this group, the share rose to 22% in 2012. Marriages between spouses with some college education were on the rise until 2000 (from 3% to 12%), but have leveled off since then.

Despite the rise of marriages between spouses with college degrees, only 22% of all newlyweds in 2012 were in this type of marriage. Another 19% were between spouses with a high school diploma or less. The share was 16% for newlyweds with some college education (but no bachelor’s degree).

Does marrying someone with less education mean “marrying down” economically? Not necessarily. When we look at the newlywed women who married someone with less education, we find that a majority of these women actually “married up.” In 2012, only 39% of newlywed women who married a spouse with less education out-earned their husband, and a majority of them (58%) made less than their husband.

Topics: College, Demographics, Education, Population Trends

  1. Photo of Wendy Wang

    is a Research Associate at the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project.

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  1. Gene Novak1 month ago

    I’m not seeing what fields the degrees are in. Not all degrees are created equal and if people are getting fluff degrees they’re next to worthless. What I didn’t see in this article is that these women are making more money than their husbands. Probably marrying some tradesman who’s helping her pay down her worthless degree.

  2. Bill Elliott5 months ago

    The lengths to which people will go to argue the validity of their anecdotes over actual research is amazing.

    “This is what the research shows”

    “No it doesn’t”

  3. mark5 months ago

    Some of the ‘findings’ are highly flawed, i.e. finding that more people with bachelors degree marry each other. If you had a situation where over 50% of today’s 20 y/o folks will obtain bachelors degree or higher and compare it to a situation where this proportion was way lower, you can’t expect them to stay on the same level. Reverse is true for people with high school diplomas, they just don’t represent so great majority. Pay attention that couples are marrying older as well, thus most will finish their university education before marrying.

    Another thing, marriage is highly flawed institution and it’s getting abandoned by more and more folks. Less affluent people will tend to stay unmarried to gain many benefits. Government will subsidize childcare for working single mothers, they may even get into subsidized housing projects, government will pay for university schooling of young single mothers and so on. Many states will often be unable to include other cohabiting partner’s income and thus many couples will appear as if they have single mother householder under poverty line, but they wouldn’t be able to do that if they were married. State cannot effectively differ between unmarried couples and single mothers, thus they abuse it until children get into school when most of those benefits run out. Many couples will separate until that point as well.

    More affluent folks will opt to marry and it will be useful for tax breaks on their joint property buying/selling. Educated people are more likely to be in this bracket. More affluent folks also have the opportunity to have one parent out of workforce and this is the only situation where ‘marriage penalty’ becomes ‘marriage advantage’ when it comes to taxes paid. Couples where both partners earn about the same money will experience ‘marriage penalty’ in the amount of taxes paid if they are married. Even with all that, less and less people are opting to get married due to incredibly rigged laws that will do you more harm that benefits. Laws are literally made to screw people up instead of helping them. This is especially true if you are a man, but it is also gender-neutral if the difference in the accumulated assets is significant, with more affluent person being exposed to many harms and no gains. Thus more and more people are very bored to enter such institution. Most of those that do, do so because other peers literally lead them into it and they never get informed about many realities on what marriage is, how marriage works, etc. Those that are informed of it are avoiding marriage altogether.

  4. Peter Nolan5 months ago

    Hi Wendy,
    if women are so well educated in the west now how come 99.9%+ of western women openly condone women committing the crimes of perjury, kidnapping, extortion, theft and child abuse in the family courts?

    I mean, how can women have so many degrees and not know “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” and “thou shalt not steal”?

    I mean, it is well and good to be “educated” but of what value is education if you do not know lying and stealing is not ok?

    This is my facebook so you can always send me a message there and share your opinion. Or maybe pew research would like to review my finding that 99.9%+ of western women openly condone women committing crimes against men. You guys know how to do stats, right?

    1. Sally F.5 months ago

      Dear Peter – I would like to dispute your claim that 99.9%+ of western women openly condone women committing crimes against men. I am a woman and I do not condone crimes against anyone. I am curious as to what caused your ex-wife to be so angry with you that she would raise allegedly false accusations in your divorce case. Did you cheat on her?

  5. RL6 months ago

    And yet they still get exclusive scholarships plus affirmative action. Makes sense.

  6. Jean Valjean6 months ago

    As the old saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.”

    Well, women are getting what they wished for. They now get more education, and they are finding it harder and harder to find a man who makes more money than she does (despite lingering wage gap myths).

    Frankly, I’m looking forward to being “oppressed” by women. I can’t wait for a nice woman to work long hours to buy me everything I want and all I have to do is take care of the house, go shopping, take care of the kids, and set an extra plate at dinner and wash an extra load of clothes. Oh, to be able to plan my own day, never have to worry about a boss, a lay off, or a bill. To have time to spend with my friends during the day, do a little housework, enjoy the kids. Man I can’t wait until some woman enslaves me just like men enslaved them (end:sarcasm).

  7. Mingtian6 months ago

    “Record share of wives are more educated than their husbands”

    How do you define ‘educated’? Most women in Uni/college are getting degrees in completely useless things in the sociology field. I wouldn’t call someone with a Women’s Studies degree “educated”, Wendy. Quite the contrary, if anything.

    The fact that someone went to university and got a degree means nothing anymore. They’re ‘educated’ in the direct sense that they got an education, but are they educated in the sense that they learned new and useful skills? I don’t think so. Uni/college has turned into a complete crapfest.

    1. Humanities5 months ago

      Wow, you have absolutely no idea what the word “education” means, Mingtian. (Hint: it isn’t job training)

      1. Misty5 months ago

        No, I think the intellectual ability needed to get a degree in, say, mathematics, engineering or even philosophy is considerably greater than that required for say, Women’s Studies or Black Studies or any other extremely narrow field. So the definition of “educated” is very important. My personal bete noire is “Education” which consists of drawing time tables and acquiring little knowledge of ANY subject. A Ph.D. in “Education” is about half the level of “An introduction to Calculus”.

        Mingtian is right on the money.

  8. Michael Hunter6 months ago

    “The primary reason for the decline in the share of married couples with similar education levels is that marriages between spouses with high school or less than high school education are much less common these days — the share is down from 74% of all marriages in 1960 to 24% in 2012.”

    Government policies have destabilized the two-parent family to the detriment of everyone, particularly children.

  9. AdVader6 months ago

    this says all about ‘education’, unfair to rediculize belittle and enslave men.

  10. slk6 months ago

    the ones who really suffer, are the parentless children, being brought up by school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teacher aides, daycare worker (almost everyone, except parents) etc etc!!! many children wonder who those big people in their house are!!! throw in the fact that many parents, go on vacation without children to keep away from them, and now you know why children act as they do!!!

    1. Ondedline6 months ago


  11. Jaime6 months ago

    True!. I have a bachelor’s degree plus additional professional certifications but throughout my 23 years of marriage my husband who has a HS diploma has always “out-earned” me almost every year we have been married! Argh!

  12. jiminvirgina6 months ago

    In my experience the need of women for a mate, makes them a lot less picky. My wife has to Master’s degrees and I only have one. She must have been desperate.

  13. Mike6 months ago

    when the population in 4 year programs is 60% female/40% males what do you expect, while in grad school I was 1 man with 29 women. Yes it was a masters in nursing, but many grad programs had many more women then men. Young males seem to either be lazy, or go into 2 year programs. The 2 year grads in some fields/skills make a LOT more money starting and maybe even thru the entire carear than 4 year degrees. Maybe 4 year programs produce a better educated person, better for the country, but that does not pay the bills.
    The problem that should be researched is that educated women DO NOT WANT UNEDUCATED husbands.

    1. slk6 months ago

      and a lot more in debt!!!

    2. RL6 months ago

      Not in anything heavily math or computer oriented.

  14. Stephen Rifkin6 months ago

    go figure – after a generation of tilting the scales toward women entering college over men to the tune of nearly 70% of admissions now, it’s actually worked out that way.

  15. maplesYurp6 months ago

    Apparantly they make less too when you look at the statistics in certain specific ways that alienate truth and emphasize whats false.

    1. slk6 months ago

      throw in the fact, they work on average, less hours, and are most likely the one parent to take time off for children!!!