Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Faith, education and marriage

There is one statistic that most Americans remember about marriage. 50 percent. Fifty percent of American marriages end in divorce. This statistic has produced a deep pessimism and fatalism among young people. "I don't want to get married because I don't want to go through all the pain of divorce." Add to this the wealth of research that has noted the severe conomic impact divorce has on children. Most of the Americans in poverty are children and most of them live in single (divorced) families. This is not a pretty picture.

However, as they say, "figures lie and liers can figure." If you go inside the divorce numbers you find one group of Americans for whom marriage is going qhite well. This group--now over a quarter of the population--has a divorce rate that has dropped by half in the past decade. People in this age group rarely have babies outside of marriage. They tend to marry in higher percentages and stay married. This group is defined by one thing: a college education.
The divorce rate after 10 years of marriage has plummed to 16% for college graduates. This is half the rate of a decade ago. Only 4 % of college educated women have children out of marriage.

On the other end of the scale, women who dropped out of high school have seen their divorce rates rise in the past to 46%. Those who completed high school has seen a slowly, but also steady rise, to 38%.
Why do college educated do better in marriage? Surely income is part of it. Marriages fight over money and college graduates tend to make more money and have more stable jobs. But perhaps the biggest thing is that people who attend college tend to get married later. Just putting off marriage to go to college is a plus in terms of maturity. The divorce rates for people of all education levels declines at the age of first marriage increases. Some have argued that finishing college is a testimony to self discipline--you have to do your homework and attend class. Getting through college gives you the skills and self confidence that you might not gain otherwise.
Kay Hymowitz of the Manhatten Institute says that graduates succeed not merely because they master the material in school, but they have learned to master themsevles. College graduates tend to have a life map that they follow. They are more selective of the person they choose to marry. They tend to put off children until they establish themselves and finish their education. When they do have children they in turn supervise and train them very carefully for success--instilling the kind of discipline, commitment to education, a wider understanding of the world and good relationships that lead to a solid marriage.

Another often cited fact is that evangelical Christians have much higher divorce rates and teenaged pregnancy rates then other Americans. this is true, but here again the numbers don't tell the whole story. Christians stress that marriage is about mutual sacrifice and "patience love" (I Corinthians 13). Studies show that evangelical Christinas who are college graudates when they get married tend to stay married longer then non-evangelical Christians. American Evangelicalare on the whole are less educated then the general population. They tend to get married early and have lower incomes. Not surpisingly they have a higher divorce rate, even though they are on average, highly committed to the instituion of marriage and to spiritual growth.

Faith and morality do matter. But education makes considerably more difference in the divorce rate than faith does.


Anne said...


It aways surprises me when a Christian couple gets divorced, but now I'll have to remember if those couples had college degrees before after they got married. I know of one case where the degree came afterward.

YoLinna said...

Well. Considering that Barry & I are not college educated, got married when I had just turned 18 and are still pretty happy together after 28 years, I would think that LOVE might have something to do with it as well.

AM Kingsfield said...

Yes, but identifying love can be tricky.

Yolinna and I are in minorities on the opposite ends of the spectrum, although I don't know if I'd consider you & Barry evangelicals in the sense of the term used here (although you certainly share many good things.)

My concern now is how my college educated divorce will affect my children's attitudes toward potential spouses.

(btw, you can see how the new blogger feature showing when blogs are updated affects the rate of response!)

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