Thursday, January 26, 2006

Marriage and Caste 2: Education Prevents Divorce

Kay Hymowitz, in the City Journal article "Marriage and Caste" that I wrote about yesterday, reports this very important finding:

Around 1980, the family-forming habits of college grads and uneducated women went their separate ways. For the next decade the proportion of college-educated moms filing for divorce stopped increasing, and by 1990 it actually starting going down. This was not the case for the least educated mothers, who continued on a divorce spree for another ten years. It was only in 1990 that their increase in divorce also started to slow and by 2000 to decline, though it was too late to close the considerable gap between them and their more privileged sisters.

Hymowitz focuses, quite reasonably, on the bad news: the marriage gap is creating a class gap.

I see in this finding, though, a silver lining: education helps prevent divorce.

Sociologists talk about "reflexivity" as a growing feature of the post-modern information society. This refers to the way in which we gather more and more information about how society is working, then use that information to change our own actions – thus changing the way society is working. Gathering and analyzing information is not an activity apart from living, but is part of the normal functioning of our society. We all take part in, even depend on, these feedback loops to guide our normal behavior.

Sometimes talk of reflexivity seems mechanical, removed from the emotional, even blood-and-guts choices of real life. Divorce, though, is about as bloody an emotional choice as any of us are likely to face outside of combat.

So here is the good news that I glean from this cold statistic: educated people, especially educated women, learned early from the new research and society's experience that divorce really did hurt their kids. Some people, of course, weren't going to divorce anyway, no matter what the new knowledge showed. Likewise, some were going to divorce anyway, researchers – and children – be damned. But in between are a group of people who reflexively changed their actions based on feedback from the information they learned in their education or were prepared to take in because of their education.

College-educated marrieds and their less-educated counterparts would both hurt their kids by divorce. In fact, the kids of less educated parents were probably hurt more. Yet the more educated parents learned the truth first, took it in faster, and, as a group, began to take corrective action sooner. Education works; reflexivity works. The kids of might-have-divorced-but-chose-not-to parents benefit, and therefore so do we all.


Anonymous said...

Divorce doesn't just hurt the kids. It hurts women. Post divorce, most women see a big drop in income and standard of living. That's another factoid educated women may have picked up.

Gruntled said...

Agreed. Waite and Gallagher calculate that of the many advantages to women of marriage, the greatest is their financial gains. Divorce more than undoes those gains, since it leaves them with kids to also live on the mother's own income.