Marriage among education equals most common but more women marrying down educationally than men

A new sociological study highlights a large social shift regarding marriage and education over recent decades:

The study, in the August issue of the American Sociological Review, looks at marriages formed between 1950 and 2004. It finds that marriages between educational equals have remained most common, but that when there is a difference, women are increasingly likely to have the educational edge.

In about half of marriages begun in the early 2000s, spouses had roughly equal educations. In nearly 30%, the wife had more and in about 20%, the husband had more — a reversal of the pattern seen in the 1950s through at least the late 1970s.

In those earlier eras, marriages in which wives were more educated were less likely to last. Researchers have theorized that was partly because less-educated men felt threatened by their wives’ successes. It’s also possible that those couples were especially non-traditional types more prone to divorce for all sorts of reasons.

But such couples married since the 1990s have had no higher divorce rates than other couples, the new study shows. They may even be less likely to divorce than couples in which men are more educated. The data is not clear on that point, researchers say.

Still a clear preference for equal education levels but a shift from men marrying down to women marrying down. From a supply and demand standpoint, this makes sense given the gains of women in education in recent decades.

While the numbers tell us something, it would also be interesting to see people’s perceptions about this. If women have more education than marrying, does this still come with more social pressures or expectations compared to the reverse?

What a sociologist learned about giving Christmas gifts from Middletown

Middletown (Muncie, Indiana) holds a special place in American sociology though the findings of two 1970s studies (ASR and AJS) about giving Christmas gifts based on the community are not as well known. Here are a few selections from the two articles:

“The 110 respondents in the sample gave 2,969 gifts and received 1,378 gifts, a mean of 27 given and 13 received. Participants in this gift system should give (individually or jointly) at least one Christmas gift every year to their mothers, fathers, sons, daughters; to the current spouses of these persons; and to their own spouses. By the operation of this rule, participants expect to receive at least one gift in return from each of these persons excepting infants…Gifts to grandparents and grandchildren seem to be equally obligatory if these live in the same community or nearby, but not at greater distances. Christmas gifts to siblings are not required.

Parents expect to give more valuable and more numerous gifts to their minor children and to their adult children living at home than they receive in return. This imbalance is central to the entire ritual. The iconography of Middletown’s secular Christmas emphasizes unreciprocated giving to children by the emblematic figure of Santa Claus, and the theme of unreciprocated giving provides one of the few connections between the secular and religious iconography of the festival-the Three Wise Men coming from a distant land to bring unreciprocated gifts to a child.”…

“Most of Middletown’s gift giving occurs between close kin…the pattern it displays shows up the two principal points of stress in the contemporary American family. The first point of stress is the insecurity of the spousal relationship. Viewed cross-culturally, the contemporary American family is unusual in exhibiting a very high level of interaction between spouses while permitting easy, almost penalty-free divorce at the initiative of either spouse at any point in the life cycle. Since divorce is always more than a remote possibility in a Middletown marriage, the relationship with affinal relatives [in-laws] is always a little uneasy.

The individual message [of a gift] says, “I value you according to the degree of our relationship” and anticipates the response, “I value you in the same way.” But the compound message that emerges from the unwrapping of gifts in the presence of the whole gathering allows more subtle meanings to be conveyed. It permits the husband to say to the wife, “I value you more than my parents” or the mother to say to the daughter-in-law, “I value you as much as my son so long as you are married to him” or the brother to say to the brother, “I value you more than our absent brothers, but less than our parents and much less than my children.” These statements, taken together, would define and sustain a social structure, if only because, by their gift messages, both parties to each dyadic relationship confirm that they have the same understanding of the relationship and the bystanders, who are interested parties, endorse that understanding by tacit approval.”

This is not the first time the media has discussed these studies but I do give credit for actually let the sociological studies speak for themselves. However, there should be a demerit for titling the web page “Christmas gift exchange: The anthropological rules beneath it.” This is based on sociological studies – these disciplines are not the same thing!

I suppose this could be a case where someone would read this and say this is all obvious. Isn’t sociology just common sense? Yet, even these small excerpts reveal some interesting findings. Physical distance matters, particularly when you get beyond the nuclear family. Additionally, Caplow notes that gift-giving between spouses is laden with meaning that can either support or undermine a marriage. While I suspect the kinds of gifts exchanged in the late 1970s might have shifted today, Caplow found money could generally be given one-way from older family members to younger family members, but not in reverse.

Considering all the hoopla surrounding Christmas in the United States and elsewhere around the world, it is a little surprising more sociologists don’t study Christmas behaviors and patterns…

Both eHarmony.com and Match.com claim to be #1 sites for marriages. Who is right?

After recently seeing ads from both eharmony.com and match.com claiming they are #1 in marriages, I decided to look into their claims. First, from match.com:

Research Study Overview & Objectives
In 2009 and 2010, Match.com engaged research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey to conduct three studies to provide insights into America’s dating behavior: a survey of recently married people (“Marriage Survey”), a survey of people who have used online dating (“Online Dating Survey”),
and a survey of single people and people in new committed relationships (“General Survey”).
Key Findings Marriage Survey
• 17% of couples married in the last 3 years, or 1 in 6, met each other on an online dating site. (Table 1)
• In the last year, more than twice as many marriages occurred between people who met on an online dating site than met in bars, at clubs and other social events combined. (Table 1)
• Approximately twice as many recently married couples met on Match.com than the site that ranked second. (Table 2)

The data is from 2009-2010. And from eHarmony.com:

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – June 3, 2013 – New research data released today, “Marital Satisfaction and Breakups Differ Across Online and Offline Meeting Venues” published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows eHarmony ranks first in creating more online marriages than any other online site.* The study also ranks eHarmony first in its measures of marital satisfaction.* Data also shows eHarmony has the lowest rates of divorce and separation than couples who met through all other online and offline meeting places.

eHarmony Ranked #1 for Number of Marriages Created by an Online Dating Site

The largest number of marriages surveyed who met via online dating met on eHarmony (25.04%)

eHarmony Ranked #1 for Marital Satisfaction by an Online Dating Site

The happiest couples meeting through any means met on eHarmony (mean = 5.86)…

*John T. Cacioppo, Stephanie Cacioppo, Gian C. Gonzaga, Elizabeth L. Ogburn, and Tyler J. VanderWeele (2013) Marital satisfaction and break-ups differ across on-line and off-line meeting venues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (www.pnas.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.1222447110/-/DCSupplemental)

Just based on these brief descriptions from their own websites, here is which number I would trust more: eHarmony.com. Why?

1. More recent data. Data that is a few years old is eons old in Internet time. People on dating sites today likely want to know the marriage rates today.

2. More reliable place where the study is published as well as the more scientific method. It looks like match.com hired a firm to do a study for them while the eHarmony.com data comes from a respectable academic journal.

When two companies both claim to be number one, it is not necessarily the case that one is lying or that one has to be wrong. However, it does help to compare their data sources, see what their claims are based on, and then make a decision as to which number you are more likely to believe. .

Don’t be worried about dating a leftist sociologist

A recent wedding story in the New York Times included this bit about getting to know a leftist sociologist:

Ms. Levine, 61, is keeping her name. She is a sociology professor at Colgate University who has written six books, including “Class, Networks and Identity: Replanting Jewish Lives From Nazi Germany to Rural New York.” She graduated from Michigan State and received a master’s in sociology from McGill. She also holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the State University at Binghamton. She is a daughter of Rae Levy Levine of Peabody, Mass., and the late Frank Levine…

At the time, he did not care to know her name. But in February 2011, after his relationship ended, he changed his opinion. Once he found out she was Ms. Levine, he looked her up on the Internet.

“I saw titles,” he said. “I saw she was a leftist sociologist. So what?”…

He soon called with an invitation for dinner at his house, where they became so caught up in conversation that “the tuna steaks were way overcooked on the grill,” he said. While there, she scanned his bookshelf, and drew comfort from the fact he had books by Barbara Ehrenreich and so many other left-leaning authors she uses in her classroom. “It turned out we were much more compatible than I thought,” she said.

If sociologists can teach courses on love, they can also get married, sociological commitments notwithstanding.

Getting married in a Going Solo world: more married couples living separately

More Americans are choosing to live alone but what happens if they want to get married? Here is one solution that appeals an increasing number of couples: get married but live apart.

It may seem unusual, but these non-traditional arrangements are more common than you think. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 1.7 million married couples in the U.S choose to live apart, and experts say that number is on the rise.

Marriage and family therapist Dr. Jane Greer said the looming 50 percent divorce rate has couples worrying about the future before they even say “I do.” She said living apart allows them to avoid all the daily little conflicts that can lead to big problems down the road…

Ultimately, Haisha said, they avoid all the business of being married and they can just enjoy the marriage…

“We want to be the wind beneath each other’s wings, not clip each other’s wings,” Haisha said.

Judging from the comments made in this article, it sounds like these couples want to maintain the perceived strengths of living alone, which means you can escape from other people and don’t have to get too involved in daily life which might lead to conflict, while still enjoying their marriages. In other words, the ideals of autonomy and individualism are preserved while still committing to marriage. But, doesn’t this redefine marriage to some degree as another relationship that can be had at the time of one’s choosing?

Who should be really happy about this trend? People in real estate as it suggests more couples need two place to own or rent.

More young couples buying a home together before getting married

Buying a home together before getting married is becoming more popular:

Now, the results of a soon-to-be-released survey from Coldwell Banker indicate that today’s young couples are also more likely to buy homes together before marriage. Nearly one-quarter (24%) of polled married couples ages 18 to 34 said that they purchased a home before they were married. Among married couples ages 45 and up, just 14% said that they bought a house together before tying the knot. Couples in the Northeast stand out as particularly likely to buy real estate before getting hitched: Just 60% in the survey waited until marriage to purchase a home, compared to 72% in the tradition-minded South, where people tend to marry younger (and therefore, poorer).

In a phone interview, Dr. Robi Ludwig, a psychotherapist and Coldwell Banker’s official “lifestyle correspondent,” said that buying a home together has become “the new engagement ring” for some young couples. They’re committing to purchasing real estate as a couple regardless of whether they’ve set a wedding date. Some even forego lavish weddings and honeymoons in order to cover the down payment and a chunk of the mortgage. “Millennials have a very pragmatic state of mind,” said Ludwig. “They know that they have an opportunity here, with low mortgage rates and low housing prices. And they think, ‘We’re moving toward marriage anyway, so let’s buy.’ It makes sense.”…

For young people who are in committed relationships and interested in homeownership, Ludwig said that the benefits associated with shopping for a home together go well beyond the prospect of owning property. While considering the very big step of buying a house, couples are forced to deal with exactly the kinds of issues that they should discuss before marriage. “When purchasing a home, there is a need to be transparent on many levels,” said Ludwig. “You must be upfront with your partner, and you also have to get real honest with yourself.” It’s possible to get married without actually knowing how much money your wife earns, or how much credit card debt your husband accrued in college. Salaries, debt, and more are all on the table when the time comes to get a mortgage, however.

Couples also must obviously figure out where they want to live, and envision how long they’re likely to live there. Even topics like how many kids you want to have come up—because that will factor in to the location, size, and style of home you buy. “It’s easy for couples to not think or talk about these things,” said Ludwig, “but they’re forced to once mortgages and banks are involved.”

This seems like an extra-expensive way to learn about each other before marriage. But, it does fit with a narrative that couples should be economically secure before getting married. Plus, couples do need a place to live…

Explaining why New Jersey has the lowest divorce rates in the United States

The lowest divorce rates in the United States are in New Jersey and here’s why:

According to the 2011 American Community Survey released last month by the Census Bureau, New Jersey ranks last among the states in the percentage of residents 18 and older who are divorced. Just 9 percent of New Jersey adults are divorced, compared with nearly 52 percent of whom are now married.

“The composition of New Jersey married individuals is quite favorable across several indicators, providing some evidence for the low divorce rate,” said Susan L. Brown, a sociology professor and co-director of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. “These factors include education, race-ethnicity, age, and age at first marriage.”…

“They tend to delay marriage until an age when they’re emotionally and financially ready,” said Deborah Carr, a sociology professor at Rutgers. “Higher education and high age at marriage are two of the most important factors that protect against divorce risk. And the current recession not withstanding, New Jersey is among the wealthier states in the nation, and economic stability also contributes to marital stability.”…

“In general, the northeastern states have lower divorce rates because their citizens are more highly educated and marry at older ages than do people in other regions,” said Andrew J. Cherlin, a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins.

In other words, certain social conditions lead to lower rates of divorce in New Jersey and other northeastern states. Having more money, more education, and being older (all related to socioeconomic status?) leads to fewer divorces. These findings could also be related to recent suggestions that those with higher levels of education are more likely to marry (also see here).

Does this mean New Jersey will start promoting itself as a family-friendly state?

Perhaps the 1950s, and not the 1960s, were the really strange decade

It common to hear that the 1960s marked a shift in American and global culture and social life. Yet, the more I learn about the 1950s, it seems like this is the decade that was really unusual.

I was thinking about this again recently while reading Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History. Coontz describes how Victorian views of marriage started unraveling at the turn of the 20th century and changes accelerated in the 1920s. Women were more free to work, be aggressors in seeking out intimate relationships, and conservatives worried that divorce rates and levels of premarital sex were rising. But after World War II, traditionalism made a comeback: millions of women who had worked in jobs that helped the war effort returned home as housewives, the country had an unprecedented baby boom, and many Americans sought out single-family homes in the suburbs in order to fully realize their familial potential. This bubble burst in the 1960s but this highlights the short course of the 1950s world; Coontz suggests this idyllic world lasted for only about 15 years.

Of course, there were a host of other factors that made the 1950s unique in the United States. The US was the only major country that hadn’t been ravaged by war. America became a military, economic, and cultural powerhouse as other countries struggled to rebuild. There was enough prosperity across the board to help keep some of the very real inequalities (particularly in terms of race) off the radar screen for many Americans. There was a clear enemy, Communism, and no controversial wars to get bogged down in. America moved to becoming a suburban nation as many become occupied with buying and maintaining single-family homes and stocking them with new appliances. There was a real mass media (just check out the TV ratings and shares for that decade) and an uptick in church attendance.

This is still a relevant issue today. After the Republican National Convention last week, President Obama suggested the Republicans want to go back to the 1950s. If the 1950s were indeed a very unique period that would be difficult to replicate and we know the decade did indeed have real issues, then this may indeed be a problem in 2012 when the world looks very different. Perhaps we could even argue that Republicans want a world that carries on the 1950s and Democrats would prefer one that carries on the legacy of the 1960s.

Could Condoleezza Rice run for president…as a single women?

After her speech at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night, some suggested Condoleezza Rice could make good presidential material. Some factors might not be in her favor: she is a woman (we have elected a black president but not a woman) and she has an interesting background that includes being a professor, provost, National Security Advisor, and Secretary of State (not exactly a traditional path to the White House). However, I wondered about another factor: could a single person become President?

While more Americans are living alone and marriage might be pursued by some people more than others, Americans seem to prefer national leaders who are married and have families. Many might ask: how could a single president understand the plight of families? If the single candidate didn’t have children, what would they know about raising children?

Since at least the late 1930s, Gallup has asked about what kind of president Americans would be willing to vote for. A few of the results:

The results are based on a June 7-10 Gallup poll, updating a question Gallup first asked in 1937 in reference to a female, Jewish, or Catholic candidate and has asked periodically since then, with additional candidate characteristics added to the list. The question has taken on added relevance in recent years as a more diverse group of candidates has run for president. This year, Mitt Romney is poised to become the first Mormon to win a major-party presidential nomination. However, Americans’ willingness to vote for a Mormon has changed little in 45 years.

Notwithstanding the Mormon trend, Gallup’s history on this question shows growing acceptance for all other types of candidates over time. That includes atheists, whose acceptability as candidates surpassed 50% for the first time last summer but have typically ranked at the bottom of the list whenever the question has been asked.

In 1937, less than half of Americans said they would vote for a Jewish or female presidential candidate; now 90% or more would. The same applies to voting for a black candidate compared with 1958. Over time, Americans’ acceptance of blacks and women as candidates has increased the most…

Americans of all political party affiliations are nearly unanimous in saying they would vote for a black, female, Catholic, Hispanic, or Jewish president. Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to say they would vote for a presidential candidate who is gay, Muslim, or an atheist. Republicans, in turn, are more likely to say they would vote for a Mormon.

As far as this page suggests, Gallup has not asked about whether candidates should be married or have a family.

It would be interesting to see this play out…

“It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged”

A New York Times article looks at how marriage affects inequality. Here are some of the interesting tidbits:

Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality. Long a nation of economic extremes, the United States is also becoming a society of family haves and family have-nots, with marriage and its rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes.

“It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University.

About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago. But equally sharp are the educational divides, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent…

Sara McLanahan, a Princeton sociologist, warns that family structure increasingly consigns children to “diverging destinies.”

I’ve tackled this before (see here) but this is still interesting: marriage can have powerful economic effects.

The normative implications of such findings are interesting to consider. Should we pursue pro-marriage policies in the face of record number of adult Americans living alone? If we don’t want to have the government promoting such things, how do you close this gap working with other social levers?

This reminds me of the recent discussion-provoking cover story from The Atlantic titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”  Marriage was not the primary focus of the story though it certainly plays a role in what both men and women can accomplish. Also, it is tied to a factor not discussed in the story: as Slaughter suggests, the women may be limited by the system but the interest couples have in both working might also be related to a desire to have two incomes. Indeed, having a certain standard of living in certain metropolitan areas generally requires two incomes unless one partner is in a lucrative job. Being married increases the purchasing power of a family which is no small feat.