Friday, July 21, 2006

The College/Not-College Class Gap Is Growing

The narrowing social distance between high school graduates and those with "some college" is offset by the widening social distance between those with "some college" and college graduates.
So write Christine Schwartz and Robert Mare. Mare is a long-time researcher in "educational assortive marriage" or how much educational birds of a feather flock together.

Two generations ago, couples made up of a college graduate and a spouse with "some college" were common. Barbara Bush, for example, dropped out of Smith to marry George H. W. Bush. Now, though, couples with one college graduate are increasingly likely to include another. One generation ago, for example, George H. W. Bush and Laura Bush married when both were not only college graduates, but had completed graduate degrees, as well.

This is the trend in the United States of the percent of married couples in which husband and wife are both college graduates:

1940 1.75%
1960 3.95
1970 6.95
1980 11.35
1990 14.51
2000 18.02

One of the reasons for the increase in double-college couples is that men and women are waiting longer to marry, by which time they have usually had time to complete college degrees. Even if a couple meets in college, they are likely to graduate before marriage – both husband and wife.

Just as interesting as the consolidation in "educational homogamy" above the college-graduate line, is the increasing mixing of high school graduates and those with some college. The college/not-college line has been the main class divider in America for some time. In the past generation, though, the bar has been raised: the great class divide begins at Commencement.


SPorcupine said...

More than 30 years ago, the economist Isabel Sawhill wrote an article in a book edited by Juanita Kreps, in which she predicted that income gaps were going to grow mightily as both members of educated couples pursued careers. I often see reports on how inequality between households has grown since then, but I don't know that I've seen much on the role that two-income-high-achievers have played in that widening.

Edith OSB said...

I wonder how the sex ratio of college students plays into this picture. More than half of the students entering college each year are female, and they have a higher retention rate through to graduation. That's going to make it tough for most of them to marry college graduates.

A British study of the source of their growing sex ratio disparity showed that it came from an increase in the college attendance rate for working class women that was not matched for working class men. The authors speculated that education seemed to best path to higher pay for women, but men hoped for jobs as skilled laborers that would produce high pay without having to go to school longer.

Gruntled said...

Educated women are trading off the likelihood of higher wages for the risk of no marriage or marrying down. Off the top of my head, I would guess those risks are roughly proportional.