More women earn university degrees than men today. But a new UBC study looking at heterosexual marriage patterns has found that women still tend to choose husbands who have higher incomes than themselves. This pattern was most pronounced among couples in which the wife had more education than the husband.
Yue Qian, the study’s author and an assistant professor in the UBC department of sociology, discusses the findings.
Women today earn 60 per cent of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and half of all doctoral degrees, according to your paper. How has this affected heterosexual marriage patterns?
Indeed, women are now gaining more education than men, which seems to have affected marriage patterns. Among newlywed couples, the percentage of couples in which the husband had more education than the wife declined from 24 per cent in 1980 to 15 per cent in 2010. Meanwhile, the number of couples in which the wife had more education than the husband increased from 22 per cent in 1980 to 29 per cent in 2010.
Looking at couples in which the wife had more education than the husband, my study found that women were 93 per cent more likely to marry men who have higher incomes than themselves, compared to couples where the opposite was true.
Surprisingly, even when couples have the same level of education, women still tend to marry men with higher incomes than themselves, compared to couples where the wife has less education than the husband. Among couples in which both spouses had a high school education, my study found the tendency for women to marry up in income was 54 per cent higher. For couples in which both spouses had some college education, the tendency for women to marry up in come was 31 per cent higher and among couples in which both spouses had a college degree or above, it was 23 per cent higher.
Despite women being more educated than ever before, you found that they still prefer a husband with a higher income than themselves. Why is that?
Although the gender pay gap is narrowing, it’s still very real. And despite more women earning university degrees today, the expectation of men as breadwinners still influences individuals’ attitudes about what is an acceptable match.
Since choosing a spouse goes both ways, men also have a role to play. Although men value potential wives’ economic roles more today than they did in the past, my study’s findings suggest that they still appear to be reluctant to marry women who are not only more educated than them but who also earn more money.
– Qian completed the study, published recently in the Journal of Marriage and Family, as part of her dissertation at Ohio State University.
– She used data from the 1980 U.S. Census and the American Community Survey 2008-2012 five-year sample. The sample size included 38,016 couples in 1980 and 37,686 couples in 2008-2012 (referred to in this Q&A as 2010, for brevity).