How “Marrying Down” Impacts the Standard of Living of Educated Women

A new study by researchers at the University of Kansas and Texas A&M University finds that although women have greatly increased their earnings power through higher education, the overall standard of living for women in married-couple families has not increased because many women are “marrying down” with husbands who are less educated and who earn less money than themselves.

Researchers examined gender-specific changes in the total financial return to education among people of prime working ages, 35 to 44 years old, using U.S. Census data from 1990 and 2000 and the 2009-2011 American Community Survey. The researchers investigated the return to education not only in labor markets but also in the marriage market.

ChangHwan Kim, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Kansas and a co-author of the study, notes that “previously, women received more total financial return to education than men, because their return in the marriage market was high. However, this female advantage has deteriorated over time despite women’s substantial progress in education and labor-market performance.”

The number of highly educated women exceeds the number of highly educated men in the marriage market, the researchers found. Women are more likely to be married to a less-educated man. Because of the combined facts that husbands are less educated than their wives than before, and the return on earnings for men has stagnated, a husband’s contribution to family income has decreased. This has led to a faster improvement of the family standard of living for men than for equally educated women themselves.

“When we consider family dynamics,” Dr. Kim said, “men are getting the benefit from women’s progress.”

The study, “Women’s Progress for Men’s Gain? Gender-Specific Changes in the Return to Education as Measured by Family Standard of Living, 1990 to 2009–2011,” was published in the journal Demography. It was co-authored by Arthur Sakamoto, a professor of sociology at Texas A&M University. The study may be accessed here.


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