Will Your Marriage Last? New Research Sheds Light

Study Finds Women With Advanced Education Have Longest Marriages

A couple enters a vintage car with a "just married" sign after their wedding.
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What makes a marriage last? This might surprise you, but having a college education is a key ingredient.

Statistics show that, in the U.S., about half of first marriages will last 20 years or more. But the odds that one's marriage will be long-lasting are far greater among college educated women than among others. And, it seems that education in general has a positive effect on marriage duration, as those with a high school education or less report the lowest rate (40 percent), and those with some college do a bit better (49 percent).

Pew Research Center reported these findings, taken from the National Survey of Family Growth, in December 2015. For the purposes of the study, marriages that ended in death were excluded from the statistics, so that they showed only those that a heterosexual couple chose to end. (Homosexual couples were not included in the study because for that population the sample size was too small for statistical accuracy.) The rates of success for first marriages among college educated men are not quite as high as for women, however at 65 percent the effect of education is still clearly present.

Very likely influenced by the way race shapes access to higher education, the study also found significant racial differentials in the likelihood that a woman's first marriage will last. Asian women were found to have the highest rate of success, at 69 percent, followed by Hispanic (54 percent), and white (53 percent). Only about 37 percent of Black women can expect their first marriage to last 20 years or more.

The study also found another source of influence that is quite surprising. It turns out that living together before marriage actually has a negative effect on the long-lasting nature of a marriage. About 57 percent of women who do not live with their spouse before they are married can expect to be together for the long-term, as compared with just 46 percent of those who did live together prior to marrying. The rate of success among men who did not live with their spouse before marriage is even higher: 60 percent.

So why does education have this effect on marriage among women? The study in question did not examine this, so there are no conclusive results about it, but there are some sociological insights worthy of consideration.

Other studies have found that people in general are most likely to marry someone with the same educational level as their own, and having a college education has a significant effect on one's income, lifetime earnings, and wealth, so its plausible that highly educated women are more likely to be in marriages that go the distance because they are more likely to be married to men who are financially secure. While there are many situations that can cause strain in a marriage, not having to face chronic financial insecurity would certainly have a positive impact on the health and duration of a marriage. Another sociology study found that men are most likely to cheat when they are financially dependent on their wives, which also suggests that when men have a stable job and income, this is good news for the health of a marriage.

So perhaps what we're really seeing in the results of this study reported by Pew is a latent effect of class status on the duration of a marriage, since this is a key factor in shaping who goes to and completes college, and who has a stable and financially lucrative job in the U.S. today.