Research has shown that college is the great equalizer in the labor market, overcoming social class differences, but the same can’t be said for the marriage market.
According to a new study from researchers at Cornell University, going to college unexpectedly lowers the odds of the less-advantaged ever marrying.
In the study, published in the February issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, the researchers say that social and cultural factors, not just income, are central to the decision to marry.
They note that men and women from the least advantaged backgrounds who attend college appear to be caught between two worlds: They are reluctant to “marry down” to partners with less education, but they are unable to “marry up” to partners from privileged backgrounds. Lead researcher Kelly Musick calls this “marriage market mismatch.”
“College students are becoming more diverse in their social backgrounds, but they nonetheless remain a socioeconomically select group,” said Musick, associate professor of policy analysis and management in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.
“It may be difficult for students from less privileged backgrounds to navigate social relationships on campus, and these difficulties may affect what students ultimately gain from the college experience.”
For the study, Musick and sociologists at the University of California-Los Angeles estimated the chances of college attendance based on family income, parental education and other indicators of social background and early academic achievement.
They then grouped their subjects into social strata based on these scores and compared marriage chances of those who go to college and those who don’t within each strata. Estimates were based on a sample of about 3,200 Americans from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, followed from adolescence into adulthood.
They found that college attendance negatively affected marriage chances for the least advantaged individuals — lessening men’s chances by 38 percent and women’s by 22 percent.
By comparison, men in the highest social stratum who attend college increase their chances of marrying by 31 percent, while women saw an increase of 8 percent.
“This research demonstrates the importance of differentiating between social background and educational achievement,” she said.
“Educational achievement may go far in reducing income differences between men and women from different social backgrounds, but social and cultural distinctions may persist in social and family relationships.”
Source: Cornell University