A woman’s educational level has the power to predict the likelihood of divorce, but as times have changed, the balance of college degrees have also changed relationships. Researchers form the University of Wisconsin, Madison, published their findings in the American Sociological Reviews, which found education levels are promising different marriage outcomes than they used to.

“The relationship between one’s educational attainment, marriage formation, and risk of divorce appears to suggest that couples are adapting to the demographic reality that women have more education than men,” said Christine R. Schwartz, lead author of the study and an associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in a press release.

For decades, sociologists concluded that when a wife was more educated than her husband, there was a higher chance of divorce than when women were less educated. Today’s marriages reveal different predictors from their education, which indicates a different value system for women’s education.

Once women began climbing higher in educational achievements than men in the mid-1980s, they kept on exceeding men in degree attainment and didn't show any signs of slowing the trend. Researchers looked at American marriages of heterosexual couples between 1950 and 2009, and found that 35 percent more marriages consist of a wife who’s more educated than her husband. “These trends are consistent with a shift away from a breadwinner-homemaker model of marriage toward a more egalitarian model of marriage in which women’s status is less threatening to men’s gender identity,” Schwartz said.

More than 60 percent of marriages consist of uneven education levels, in which one has a higher level than the other. Couples who married after the 1990s no longer showed an association between divorce and a wife with an education level higher than her husband's. “We also found that couples in which both individuals have equal levels of education are now less likely to divorce than those in which husbands have more education than their wives,” Schwartz said.

In fact, couples with equal education have a lesser chance of divorce than couples with a more educated husband. Between 2000 and 2004, when a husband and wife stood on the same educational platform, they were one-third less likely to divorce than marriages that featured husbands with more education than their wives.  

“Rather than doggedly adhering to norms that wives should have lower status than their husbands, men and women are increasingly forming relationships in which women have the educational advantage — so much so that it is now more common for wives to have more education than their husbands than the reverse pattern,” Schwartz said.

For the first time in 50 years, the education balance has tipped in the favor of wives, which means they’re marrying down. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly 40 percent of college-educated women married guys without degrees in 2012, compared to the decades before when men married down.

“Young people today strongly believe in egalitarian marriage — even if they don’t always follow it in practice,” Schwartz said. “Overall, our results speak against fears that women’s growing educational advantage over men has had negative effects on marital stability.”

Source: Schwartz CR, Han H. The Reversal of the Gender Gap in Education and Trends in Martial Dissolution. American Sociological Review. 2014.