Growing evidence for a divorce divide education and marital dissolution rates in the united states
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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 Park [email protected]

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Growing evidence for a divorce divide education and marital dissolution rates in the united states l.jpg
Growing Evidence for a “Divorce Divide”?Education and Marital Dissolution Rates in the United States

  • Steven P. Martin

  • University of Maryland – College Park

  • [email protected]

  • This work has been funded by Russell Sage Foundation Grant on the consequences of social inequality for families, schools, and communities.


Divorce has declined but not necessarily for everybody l.jpg
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.


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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)


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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




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Sources of uncertainty about marital dissolution degree/no college degree

  • Many separations do not lead to divorce until right before remarriage

  • Recent separations can lead to a reconciliation

  • Date of separation may be inaccurately recalled

  • Separation rates are strongly conditioned by duration since marriage

  • Changes in marital dissolution rates might be side effects of factors affecting entry into marriage

    • Changes in premarital childbearing

    • Changes in marriage timing

    • (Changes in cohabitation rates)

    • (Changes in the proportion of women who ever marry)


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Sources of data degree/no college degree

  • Surveys of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)

    • 1996 and 2001

    • 24,990 ever-married women age 25-64 at interview

  • Current Population Survey (CPS) Marriage and Fertility Supplements

    • June 1985/1990/1995

  • National Surveys of Family Growth (NSFG)

    • 1973, 1976, 1982, 1988, 1995

  • Census 1% Public Use Micro Samples (PUMS)

    • 1980, 1990, 2000


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Estimation method degree/no college degree

  • Outcome of interest: the proportion of women with a marital dissolution within 10 years of first marriage, controlling for censoring at interview

  • Procedure: Kaplan-Meier Life Table Procedure to identify the proportion P of women with a marital dissolution within 10 years of a first marriage.

  • P = 1 – S = 1 – П(St ),

    • Where St is the proportion of persons who do not have a marital dissolution in the tth year of a first marriage, out of those exposed to the risk of a marital dissolution in that year.

    • and where t = 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10


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Results Table 1: First marriages with a marital dissolution within 10 years, as a percent of all first marriages


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Results Table 2: Trends in Marital Status in U.S. Census Data:Divorced or Separated Persons as a Percent of Ever-Married Persons Age 35-44


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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


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Figure 2: Percent of U.S. Women with a Marital Dissolution within 10 Years of a First Marriage, by Year of Marriage and Education Percentile. SIPP 1996/2001


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Are shifts in marital dissolution rates explained by group differences in age at marriage?

  • No.

    Are shifts in marital dissolution rates explained by group differences in premarital childbearing?

  • No.


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Discussion differences in age at marriage?

  • 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.


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Speculation on the divorce divide: differences in age at marriage?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.


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Speculation on the divorce divide: differences in age at marriage?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)


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Work in Progress: A Growing Divide in differences in age at marriage?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.


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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 25-39.

  • Source: General Social Survey 1974-2002. N = 4999.

  • Scoring: 0 = easier, 1 = stay the same, 2 = more difficult.


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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


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It is not enough that attitudes toward divorce correspond with divorce rates

  • To the extent that divorce behavior causes attitudes toward divorce, shifts in attitudes toward divorce might be explained by variables that predict divorce behavior.

    • women’s participation in labor force

    • women’s income

    • women’s socioeconomic index

    • marriage

    • nonmarital childbearing

    • (divorce)


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Covariate analyses of diverging attitudes toward divorce with divorce rates

  • Shift in divorce attitude scores for college grads,

    net of other women (1976 – 2000): .44

  • Amount explained by shifts in or coefficients of…

    religious denomination, frequency of church attendance, .06

    political views, gender role ideology,

    attitudes toward extramarital sex

    women’s LFP, income, SEI .13

    women’s marital and childbearing status .09

    not explained by model .16


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