- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2010

Got a college diploma? A marriage license might be next, a new survey finds.

A review of 60 years of census data finds that college-educated men and women are now more likely to be married by age 30 than their peers who didn’t attend or finish college, “a reversal of long-standing marital patterns,” the Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends project said Thursday.

This 2008 “marriage gap” was not huge — 62 percent of 30-year-old college graduates were or had been married, compared to 60 percent of 30-year-old adults who did not have bachelor’s degrees — but it nevertheless marks a historic shift.

As for the reasons, current theories say that many people are simply delaying marriage until their 30s while they cohabit or test-run a relationship. Some view marriage as a “crowning” achievement that one does after getting a good job, buying a house and even having a baby. Others think couples are postponing marriage until they can afford the weddings and honeymoons of their dreams.


Richard Fry, senior researcher at Pew, said that for much of the 20th century, those who didn’t attend or finish college were most likely to marry by age 30. It was the college grads who waited to tie the knot.

In 1990, for instance, Pew found that 75 percent of young adults without college degrees were married by age 30, compared to 69 percent of their peers with bachelor’s degrees.

In 2008, this reversed — 62 percent of college grads had married by age 30, compared with 60 percent of their non-college-grad peers.

The shift away from marriage among less-educated adults is troubling to Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

“Marriage is an integral dimension of the American dream” and this “marriage gap” leaves working-class and low-income Americans at an even further disadvantage for fulfilling economic and happy family life, he said.

Children who grow up in intact, married homes, he said, are more likely to graduate high school, attend college, be gainfully employed and are less likely to divorce. Boys are less likely to go to prison; girls are less likely to become pregnant as a teen.

The Pew study notes that a man’s ability to support a wife may be playing a big role in the shift, as young men without a college degree have seen their economic fortunes slip in the last 20 years, especially relative to college men.

“From 1990 to 2008, the inflation-adjusted median annual earnings of college-educated men ages 25 to 34 rose by 5% (to $55,000 in 2008 from $52,300 in 1990), while the median annual earnings of those with only a high school diploma declined by 12% (to $32,000 in 2008 from $36,300 in 1990),” Mr. Fry wrote in the study.

Not surprisingly, Pew noted, about half of all cohabitors are under age 35, and more than 80 percent do not have college degrees.

But there’s no doubt that, regardless of education, American young people are prolonging their days as bachelors and bachelorettes.

The typical age for marriage in 2008 was 28, for both college grads and non-college grads, the Pew study found. This is far older than in 1950, when the typical age of marriage for the non-college-educated was 22, and age 24 for college grads.

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