Are wives more educated than their husbands more likely to be unhappily married? No, says a recent study. This study, suggests that heterosexual marriages in the United States are becoming less bound by traditional gender roles.

Women are outpacing men’s educational attainments, and these marriages become more commonplace, says lead researcher Christine Schwartz, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“It’s a big social change,” and the fact that it does not seem to be making marriages less stable ought to dispel “a lot of fear and anxiety,” Schwartz reported.

The study, in the August issue of the American Sociological Review, looks at marriages formed between 1950 and 2004. It finds that marriages between men and women of equal educational attainment have remained the most common, but that when there is a discrepancy, women are increasingly more likely to have the educational edge.

In 50% of new unions in the early 2000s, spouses had roughly equal schooling. In nearly 30%, the wife had more, and in about 20%, the husband had more — a perfect reversal of the pattern seen in the 1950s and well through the late 1970s.

In that earlier time, marriages in which wives were more educated were demonstrably less resilient. Researchers have theorized that was partly because less-educated men were threatened by their wives’ success. It’s also possible that those couples were also atypical for other reasons, and were more likely to divorce anyway.

Wives More Educated No more Likely to Divorce

But educationally mismatched couples married since the 1990s have had no higher divorce rates than other couples, a new study reveals.

They may even be slightly less likely to divorce than couples in which men are more educated. The data is not clear on that particular nuance.

The data does clearly demonstrate that recently married educationally-equal couples, in recent years, have been less likely to divorce than those in which men are more educated, Schwartz says.

These findings join other studies to suggest that many couples are throwing out an old script that said a man had to “earn more than the woman, know more than the woman, be stronger, older, taller and wiser than the woman,” says Stephanie Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

“We are seeing, on a great many fronts, a greater comfort among men with women who are their equals or perhaps even know more than they do, Many women also are getting more comfortable with men who may earn less, or have less education” she reported.

“The fact remains that husbands overall do tend to make more money than their wives, and wives still tend to do more unpaid work at home. But clearly, some gender roles have relaxed.” Says Daniel Dashnaw M.S., a couples therapist in Couples Therapy Inc. “Additional education, particularly for wives from patriarchal cultures, may pressure their roles at home as well as their cultural identities.” He said. “The roles of caregiver and provider hold deep cross-cultural meaning.”

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Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist and the blog editor. He currently works with couples online and in person. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and Developmental Models in his approaches. Daniel specializes in working with neurodiverse couples, couples that are recovering from an affair, and couples struggling with conflict avoidant and passive aggressive behavior patterns.

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