College graduates are more than twice as likely to report that their marriages are very happy as are married non-college graduates. “With This Ring,” the marriage survey of the National Fatherhood Initiative that I have written about before, notes that college graduates are more likely to be pro-marriage in general, to oppose cohabitation, and to believe that parents should stay together at least while the children are young.
Maggie Gallagher, in a recent column, cites another study by sociologist Stephen P. Martin at the University of Maryland. He found that divorce rates among the college educated have dropped to half of what they were in the bad years of the late 1970s. Martin discerns a “divorce divide” growing along educational lines.
Gallagher notes that college graduates have more successful marriages, in part, because they are more secure financially. She also raises the interesting possibility, though, that college graduates are improving their family behavior because they are taking in the new social science research about the importance of strong marriages.
Sociologists call the process of feedback from research to changes in social behavior “reflexivity.” Anthony Giddens, one of Britain’s most eminent sociologists and former Director of the London School of Economics, has argued that modern societies are so complex that they must produce a continuous series of information about how the system is working. Moreover, this information is not simply an observation that runs along side a running social system, but is continuously fed back into the system itself. The inflation rate, for example, is not simply esoteric information swapped within the walls of the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Bank, but is intensely sought by many economic actors, and its release quickly affects everyone.
Today there is a significant industry collecting family data and translating it into popular and useful knowledge. The market for the popular books, magazines, talk shows -- and blogs -- about marriage and family life is especially rich in educated married mothers.
College classes in sociology and family studies can be a great way to transmit to students the research showing that marriage is good for men, women, and children. I have seen this happen in my own classes every year. In fact, the single finding that has the biggest impact on my students in Waite and Gallagher’s report, in The Case for Marriage, that cohabitation is not a good trial marriage, but instead is likely to lead to higher break-up and divorce rates. Many students who had been planning to cohabit after Commencement change their plans. It is too soon to tell whether this will produce happier and more stable marriages, but I am planning on it. And so are they.