National Edition

Record share of wives outpace husbands when it comes to education

Published: Friday, Feb. 14 2014 4:20 a.m. MST

For the first time since tracking started, wives in a marriage are more likely to be educated than are husbands, according to a Pew Research Center report that has tracked the education attainment of couples for 50 years.

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For the first time since tracking started, wives in a marriage are more likely to be educated than are husbands, according to a Pew Research Center report that has tracked educational attainment within marriages for a half-century.

In 2012, more than one-fifth of married women had spouses who had less education than they did. That is a threefold increase from 1960, noted the Pew analysis, which used 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 percent in 2012," the report said.

"The dynamic is due partly to the well-chronicled fact that women have surpassed men in college graduation rates in the last two decades," wrote Walter Hamilton for the Los Angeles Times.

The report said the trend is particularly pronounced among young newlyweds for that very reason. Young women are more likely to be enrolled in college than young men, as earlier reports have shown.

Pew also found that the overall share of couples who have similar education attainment is down from 1960s — 80 percent to about 60 percent in 2012. It said the main reason for the decline in shared education levels is that "marriages between spouses with high school or less than high school education are much less common these days," falling from 74 percent to 24 percent between 1960 and 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 percent in 1960 to 46 percent in 2012," the report states.

That is not what is happening with college graduates who are more likely to form relationships with others who have also graduated. In 1960, 3 percent of couples were made up of two college graduates who married. In 2012, it was 22 percent. And marriages between spouses "with some college education were on the rise until 2000, but have leveled off since then."

A May report showed that women are also increasingly the primary bread-winner in a family while retaining the bulk of care-giving duties. Catherine Rampell of the New York Times wrote, "4 in 10 American households with children under age 18 now include a mother who is either the sole or primary earner for her family, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census and polling data. "This share, the highest on record, has quadrupled since 1960."

That article also noted some different public opinion views on the topic. It cited a working paper from economists at University of Chicago and the National University of Singapore that noted what the Times called "a sharp drop-off in the number of couples in which the wife earns more than half of the household income. This suggests that the random woman and random man are much less likely to pair off if her income exceeds his," the paper says.

The economists concluded that wives who have higher education and better earning potential than their husbands are less likely to work.

"In other words," wrote Rampell, "women are more likely to stay out of the work force if there is a big risk that they will make more than their husbands."

The Washington Post noted that "men still out-earn women, but the gap is narrowing. In 2007, full-year women workers had median earnings of about $33,000, which was 71 percent of men's median earnings of about $46,000. Back in 1970, women's earnings were 52 percent of men's."

EMAIL: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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