As a kid I heard the joke that Mennonite women in my mother’s generation went to college to get an MRS degree and indeed, my own mother dropped out of college soon after she got married. Of course, my dad dropped out then too, so perhaps he was also sent to college to find a good Mennonite spouse. Surprisingly the data shows that there is probably more reason for Americans to go to college in order to get married now than ever before. That is because, as Pew shows, marriage is in decline, but just for Americans without a college degree.
The graph shows a little tiny decline for adults with college degrees, but that is probably mainly due to the rising median age of first marriage.
How much later will the median age of marriage go in another fifty years?
Naturally, college graduates marry later because they usually wait until after graduation at least. Divorce rates have also diverged by education. College graduates are doing better now than in 1990 whereas everyone else keeps getting worse:
College education isn’t preserving marriage merely because young couples are meeting their spouses in college. People are increasingly meeting their spouses using dating applications rather than in person. Todd Schneider analyzed 63,000 New York Times wedding announcements and found that less than 30% of those couples met in school and the frequency of meeting via online dating apps is rapidly growing.
The success of college graduates at marriage is in large part due to college graduates having more income because, increasingly, marriage is just for rich people:
It isn’t that non-rich Americans just don’t want to get married. “80 percent of never-married Americans say they want to marry“. Perhaps rising income inequality is causing the decline in the family? The Institute for Family Studies summarized a few of the researcher who have made that link, but there seems to be more data on the related issue of how education impacts the family. For example, the majority of births of American high school dropouts are outside of marriage whereas only 6% of births to college-educated women are outside of marriage.
Better luck in love is just one of many reasons to go to college. Another little-known reason is longer lifespan!
Some of the apparent effect of marriage upon life outcomes might also be related to childbirth which is correlated with marriage and also has dramatic effects. Here is a study showing the effects of childbirth upon fathers which begins when new fathers merely expect a future birth.