The economic balance in families is changing dramatically, as the steps taken by countries to increase gender parity have encouraged greater higher educational attainment by women. According to a study by the Centre for Demographic Studies of the Univesitat Autònoma de Barcelona, this has led to concurrent growth of relationship pairings in which women have a higher level of education than their male partners, with some countries now reporting that numbers of such couples is close to exceeding those adhering to the previously predominant pairings in which it is the male who is the more educated of the two.
As part of their research, CEB-UAB looked at the impact that women’s educational attainment is having on the workings of heterosexual pair-bond relationships. The study’s authors also looked at what kind of relationship trends develop as the number of relationships in which it is the women who have a higher level of education grows.
The study conducted by Albert Esteve, Joan Garcia-Roman and Iñaki Permanyer analyses the effects on couples when there are more women than men with university studies. To do this they gathered data from 138 censuses in 56 countries, dating from 1968 to 2009. The research was published in Population Development Review. The study concludes that higher education levels in women has a direct effect on union formation. Such is the effect that in countries in which there are more women than men with university studies, the number of couples in which the woman unites “downwards” (with a man with lesser studies) surpasses those who unite “upwards” (with a man with more studies).
Prior to beginning their research, the authors hypothesized that in countries where broader access to education for women raised their level of academic attainment, the traditional relationship paradigm buckled, giving way to a growth in single women unable to find men to “unite upwards” with. But contrary to expectations, they determined that both men and women were able to adopt to the new reality much easier than the authors anticipated, with relationships where the man is the more educated partner giving way not to increased single-hood but to relationships where men pair up with more educated women.
If the trends in education continue, prevalence in educational hypergamy will continue to decrease, researchers say. This scenario suggests that the increase in education level amongst women can have important effects on traditional relationship models and represents a step forward in reaching symmetry when forming relationships. “It will be interesting to observe whether this change develops into more equality between men and women in other aspects of their life (decision-making, distribution of home tasks, divorce, fertility, etc.),” Albert Esteve comments.
It’s difficult to speculate what long-term impact these structural changes will have on marriage and divorce rates, but these observations open to the door to studying a new, yet related type of structural change: that which will see more women being not only more educated, but also higher earners than their male partners.