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Growing Evidence for a “Divorce Divide”? Education and Marital Dissolution Rates in the United States Steven P. Martin University of Maryland – College.

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Presentation on theme: "Growing Evidence for a “Divorce Divide”? Education and Marital Dissolution Rates in the United States Steven P. Martin University of Maryland – College."— Presentation transcript:

1 Growing Evidence for a “Divorce Divide”? Education and Marital Dissolution Rates in the United States Steven P. Martin University of Maryland – College Park This work has been funded by Russell Sage Foundation Grant on the consequences of social inequality for families, schools, and communities.

2 Divorce has declined – but not necessarily for everybody Divorce rates in the United States have fallen somewhat from their unprecedented high levels in the late 1970s. However, in the context of increasing economic inequality in the United States, between group differences may be as important as overall trends. –A “divorce divide” would have the potential to exacerbate economic inequality across generations.

3 What we know about educational differences in divorce rates Less educated women are more likely to divorce than highly educated women. –The most comprehensive study of shifts in the determinants of divorce finds no change in this pattern (Teachman 2002) –However, some studies have found evidence for increasing differences in marital dissolution rates by education. (c.f Bumpass and Raley 2002)

4 Sources of uncertainty about education Education is a marker of socioeconomic status, but… –…education is also an indicator of value orientation and other social factors –…individuals complete their education at different ages (sometimes after a divorce!) –…the distribution of educational attainment has shifted since the 1970s

5 Figure 1: Percent of U.S. Women with a Marital Dissolution within 10 Years of a First Marriage, by Year of Marriage and Education Level. SIPP 1996/2001

6 Discussion There is indeed a growing “divorce divide” in the United States. –Women with a four-year college degree or higher are becoming less likely to experience marital dissolution within 10 years of marriage. –Women with no four-year college degree (who still constitute a majority of U.S. women) have marital dissolution rates as high as in the 1970s.

7 Speculation on the divorce divide: an economic interpretation. Improving economic circumstances for higher income women and men increasingly facilitate the formation of stable families. –Incomes are rising for married men –Work/family role conflict may be decreasing for married women with moderately high human capital –Household and childrearing activities are increasingly becoming market commodities Declining economic circumstances for middle and lower income women and men are a growing impediment to the formation of stable families.

8 Speculation on the divorce divide: a values interpretation. College graduates are in the vanguard of a cultural shift away from divorce. “(O)n the core social question of whether family fragmentation is a bad thing or a not-so bad thing, a steady shift in popular and (especially) elite opinion took place over the course of the 1990s. Denial and happy talk about the consequences of nuclear family decline became decidedly less widespread; concern and even alarm became much more common. As a society we changed our minds, and as a result we changed some of our laws. And now, it seems, we are beginning to change some of our personal behavior. This is very encouraging news.” Blankenhorn (2002)

9 Work in Progress: A Growing Divide in Attitudes Toward Divorce. If a values explanation for divorce trends has some explanatory power, then attitudes toward divorce should be changing in the same ways as divorce rates.

10 Responses to the Question: "Should Divorce be Easier or More Difficult to Obtain Than it is now?" By Education and Decade for U.S. Women Age Source: General Social Survey N = Scoring: 0 = easier, 1 = stay the same, 2 = more difficult.

11 It is not enough that attitudes toward divorce correspond with divorce rates To the extent that attitudes toward divorce cause divorce behavior, shifts in attitudes toward divorce should be explained by other value-associated variables –religious denomination –frequency of church attendance –political views –gender role ideology –attitudes toward extramarital sex

12 Your Chances of Divorce May Be Lower than You Think : FactorsPercent Decrease in Risk of Divorce Annual income over $50,000 (vs. under $25,000) -30 Having a baby seven months or more after marriage (vs. before marriage) -24 Marrying over 25 years of age (vs. under 18) -24 Own family of origin intact (vs. divorced parents) -14 Religious affiliation (vs. none)-14 Some college (vs. high-school dropout) -13


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