The Reversal of the Gender Gap in Education and Trends in Marital Dissolution

Schwartz, Christine and Hongyun Han
Working paper no. 2012-05


The reversal of the gender gap in education has potentially far-reaching consequences for marriage markets, family formation, and relationship outcomes. One possible consequence of this is the growing number of marriages in which wives have more education than their husbands. Previous studies have found this type of union to be at higher risk of dissolution. Using data on marriages formed between 1950 and 2004 in the United States, we evaluate whether this association has persisted as the prevalence of this relationship type has increased. Our results show a large shift in the association between spouses’ relative education and marital dissolution. In particular, we confirm that marriages in which wives have the educational advantage were once more likely to dissolve, but we show that this association has disappeared in more recent marriage cohorts. Another key finding is that the relative stability of marriages between educational equals has increased. These results are consistent with a shift away from rigid gender specialization toward more flexible, egalitarian partnerships and provide an important counterpoint to claims that progress toward gender equality in heterosexual relationships has stalled.