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UW report: Marriages between people with different levels of education are failing less often

Patty Murray, Wisconsin Public Radio

A new University of Wisconsin-Madison report shows the number of divorces among couples with different levels of education is falling.

The model of Ward and June Cleaver from “Leave it to Beaver” is a thing of the past: “It's looking like more and more people are comfortable, at least, with June Cleaver having the educational advantage,” said Christine Schwartz, an associate professor of sociology at UW-Madison.

Schwartz co-authored a report on education and “marital dissolution,” which looked at divorces and education beginning in the 1950s, when most college degrees were earned by men. Schwartz said that dynamic changed by the mid 1980s. Now women earn 57 percent of Bachelor's Degrees and two-thirds of Master's.

She said the U.S. has moved from a “breadwinner/housewife” model to something more egalitarian.

“The point of view that our study takes is that it's a marker of status and potentially of bargaining power in a relationship,” said Schwartz. “Historically, men have been seen as the breadwinner (and) the head of the household, and had status dominance in marriages. And marriages that deviated from that tended to be more unstable.”

Some men with lower degrees can still out-earn a spouse. This report didn't look at income, but Schwartz said it merits follow up studies.

“We would like to look at spouses' relative education and look at wives who out-earn their husbands to see if we see a similar trend in decline in divorce,” said Schwartz.

Schwartz says another intriguing field of study will be education and income among same-sex spouses.