Wanna Get Married? Get a Degree (and a Job)

by Danielle C. Belton

Marriage advice! Don’t you just love it? (Not really.) But don’t you just love being told that you’re too fat, old, unattractive, bad in bed, corny, angry, bitter, skanky, virginal, black, or female to love? Because that’s what society would like you to believe. But there’s something that just doesn’t add up.

Sure, we could all turn ourselves into hot-bodied “10s” and get Stepford Wife-style implants to suppress things like desire, agency, and opinion, but I have a feeling – just a tiny one – that we’d still be single because the economy sucks and we all flunked remedial Algebra in college.

Author Ralph Richard Banks caused a stir last year when he revisited the controversial notion that “marriage is for white people.” But a recent Time magazine article has a counter for that. Using U.S. Census data (and the collapse of the marriage of actors Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes as backdrop), the publication learned that marriage is less “for white people” than it is “for rich, educated people.”

From Time:

Overall, divorce rates are actually falling. And among the well-educated and wealthy who marry after the age of 26, they’re falling quite dramatically. The vast majority of American marriages between two people like Cruise and Holmes make it to the 10-year mark. (Theirs lasted six.) About 30% of people in Cruise’s demographic — white American men between the ages of 40 and 49 (Cruise’s age when Holmes filed for divorce) —  have ever been divorced, according to the most recent (2009) Census figures. And half of them had remarried. About 12 percent of those guys had then divorced again. That is, 24 percent of fortysomething white guys’  second marriages had failed.

Now adding to the list of things that are better if you are flush with cash (like food, housing, clothing and transportation), you can now add “wedded bliss” to the list. But even if you aren’t rolling in the dough (just yet), another key indicator to if you’ll ever tie the knot is your education level. People who finish college are more likely to have successful marriages – no matter the race.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Across the board, college-educated people had lower divorce rates than people with less education. Ms. Stevenson suggests that might be because college educated couples go into marriage with a different set of expectations.

“They’re less likely to approach their marriages as sources of financial stability and they’re more likely to approach them as a source of personal fulfillment,” she says.

And the stats just keep getting better for those economically advanced brainiacs. Also from Time, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School found that 81 percent of college graduates who married in the 1980s at the age of 26 or older were still married two decades later.

The divorce rate is actually falling for those leading in our better educated and financed classes, countering the common misconception that, perhaps, black people and the poor (and black people who happen to be poor) can simply marry themselves out of their troubles. But unemployment, low income and low education seem to have a lot more bearing on whether or not you and your sweetheart make it than by simply being hitched – for better or impoverished worse.

Congressional Republicans pushed federally financed programs meant to increase marriage among the poor in hopes that putting a ring on it would lift families out of poverty, but it seems that money might have been better spent on sending the poor to trade schools and community college then helping them find jobs.

It seems just throwing around marriage without a plan for educational and economic advancement is sitting up countless poor people to fail, not just economically, but in their romantic lives as well. While marriage counseling seemed to help white, middle-class couples who had the time and the income to take advantage of these courses, the results were negligible for poorer couples who couldn’t afford the classes – as in, they couldn’t pay for them if they charged and couldn’t afford to lose time at work or with their families if they were free.

Then there was this flop in the form of the Building Healthy Families program where many couples who took the classes actually found themselves breaking up.

From Mother Jones:

Take the Building Healthy Families program, which targeted unmarried but romantically involved couples who were either new parents or expecting a baby. The program, tested in Baltimore and seven other cities, offered participants many weeks of marriage education classes that focused on improving their relationships with the hopes that this would also help their children. Three years later, researchers reported that the program had produced precisely zero impact on the quality of the couples’ relationships, rates of domestic violence, or the involvement of fathers with their children. In fact, couples in the eight pilot programs around the country actually broke up more frequently than those in a control group who didn’t get the relationship program. The program also prompted a drop in the involvement of fathers and the percentage who provided financial support.

So what can bring you love might not have anything to do with how great you hair looks right now or what great maternal skills you have or if you’re a guy who’s a “traditionalist.”  Whether or not you stay together forever or watch your relationships die in a fire of scorched Earth glory may come down to brain and pocketbook power.

It seems love is just an impossible advanced degree in calculus and a winning lottery ticket away.

  • O’Phylia

    Another aspect that finishing college factors in, is dedication. College itself is not a test of wits or intelligence, but endurance. Most people who finish college probably would view a marriage the same way: they’re in it to the end.

  • http://itsoftenbeensaid.wordpress.com Sasha

    good point.

  • Mademoiselle

    So the statistics show college educated and/or rich people tend to have longer lasting marriages. Wouldn’t the reasoning that follows be people who have the desire to pursue and complete college tend to exhibit the same traits in their marriages? Or, people who are resilient in their pursuit of wealth are also frequently resilient in their marriages? Getting a degree won’t *lead to marriage, but if you’re the type to go for a degree, you might also be the type to figure out a marriage. Correlated, not causal.

    About that marriage program… What the huh? That sounds like something was up with a) the type of counseling people were receiving, b) the population selection, and c) the execution of the whole program. Why can’t people accept that sometimes people have kids with the wrong people. Why try and force nature? Were the kids offered free therapy after being forced to watch their incompatible parents go through a divorce that probably wouldn’t have happened had they been allowed to stay single?

  • http://gravatar.com/libpatriot libpatriot

    The question I would pose is this college and job requirement apply to BOTH partners. The resolution to a lot of our issues is educated, professional men, and not solely women. The article clearly states that the educated are most successful at creating and maintaining relationships, marriage and family. This should be the standard in our community for all.

  • Apple

    Wasn’t the thing a couple years ago black women werent getting married because they were too educated ?

  • AnnT

    This study focuses on married couples where both parties have a degree, not single Black women with a degree who can’t find a husband.

  • Lady P

    The same attributes it takes to obtain a higher degree is equivalent to making a marriage work. They both require perseverance, dedication, and desire. Not to say a marriage will not work without having a degree, but I do think there is some truth attached to this study.

  • Pseudonym

    And major in education to become a school teacher. 90+% of the women I knew who were married between 21 and 25 are all school teachers. I suspect there’s a 200-level course they take in which they’re told they must get married.

  • Perspective

    What this piece doesn’t point out is the fact that being more educated especially for women lowers the likeliness of them GETTING MARRIED. If they get married – I’m not disputing what the article says, but I think the article has it confused. Staying together and getting married two different things.

    Google Highly educated black women less likely to get married. MSNBC I think did the study, and trust I took it with a grain of salt.

    But they were talking about how if the most educated of black women aren’t getting married like Miss Rice, then half of the civil rights movement was for naught – because it stops at a generational dead end.

    “Beyond the personal interests of individual women, the trend is significant because “in terms of American society, this is one additional obstacle” to the broadening of the black middle class, Brueckner said. Fewer highly educated black people having children means that they cannot pass on those advantages and knowledge.”
    This defeats the goal of affirmative action, argue some demographers. The idea behind assuring that blacks had access to higher education and graduate school was that after a generation or so, African-Americans would reach a kind of achievement parity after generations of suffering educational and career restriction. But if black women, who comprise 71 percent of black graduate students, according to the census data, do not have children, the rate of achievement reaches a kind of familial dead end.”


    I take it with a grain of salt – but Staying together and getting to thru the phase of actually getting engaged are two different things.

    It would make sense for the educated to be less likely to divorce. They have more to financially lose than working class folks or those who are poorer.

  • http://changecomesslow.wordpress.com Nikesha

    im really over the statistics about marriage.

  • http://gravatar.com/libpatriot libpatriot

    It seems the missing link is the encouragement for men to graduate college. I for one, do not know why this is not the standard.

  • Dalili

    Me too. A marriage will succeed if the individuals involved are fully present, fully engaged and genuinely want what’s best for each other; there is no way to quantify a union.

  • http://gravatar.com/honeybfly1980 Isis

    I agree

  • Shelly

    Screw these statistics.

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    um…jobs are horrible. why don’t people ever encourage people to start their own business? it’s totally doable. why work hard for someone who doesn’t care about you? you can work as hard as you work at a “job” for you and your family. that’s what most people did when america was first founded.jobs will get you nowhere but frustrated and annoyed until you retire degree or not. why waste your already short life doing that?

  • la_mujer


  • Chris Green

    Is it really because of the economic wealth of the college degree that makes for better and longer marriages or does it stem from the fact that those college educated folks paticipated in many social activities during college which included the ability to enhance social skills, met alot of people, developed relationships with peple, and gained vast experience in dating relationships from dating folks in college?

    There are a lot of people who went to college, graduated, and got a great job, but are not married. Some did not engage in vast social activities that allowed them to develop relationships. I would love to read the articles used and read the research’s samping protocols and see what kind of social personalities the peopl used in the studie were.

    Lastly, we have to be careful with using statistics. Althrough the sources quoted are very credible, it is always a concern because a lot of journalists in magazines only take the information that supports their arguement and have never read the actual research article they are using. Many of times, I have found the article they used and discovered that the social researchers arguments were not the same as the journalists. To me, the best approach to knowing if you have a good one or the “the one” is to not listen to outside voices or sources, focus on the relationship that you currently have and make the best of it. Make the decisions that you think are best for your individual relationship. If they turn out to be the wrong choices, learn from them, grow from them, make the adjustments. But let’s not rely so much on outside voices looking in in carrying out our relationships.

  • Brodie

    “African-American women are less likely to marry than white women overall, but educated black women are considerably more likely to marry than their less-educated counterparts. As of 2008, 70 percent of African-American female college graduates had married, compared with 60 percent of high school graduates and just 53 percent of high school dropouts.”

    NY Times 2012

    “Contrary to Conventional Wisdom, African-American women do not face a “marriage penalty” when they acquire higher education. In fact, black women who have graduated from college or completed some college are more likely to marry than less-educated groups of black women.”

    Council on Contemporary Families 2010

    I always say double check. ABC spun the hell out these stats. But then again I find that black people are super stat happy these.

  • Wong Chia Chi

    Thank you for this. You can’t put a marriage on a resume so how can getting married help keep people out of poverty? I get the idea that two can live as cheaply as one and shared income helps people bear financial burdens. But if two undereducated, low income, broke people marry it’s just barely helping, at best they can survive in poverty, not thrive and certainly not raise a family. Two people cannot raise a family today on minimum wage unless they have some kind of assistance which being married they probably won’t qualify for. And the biggest thing that breaks up marriages/relationships is financial stress. Two broke people in love can quickly become two broke people in hate.

    And so what the black community had more marriages before the civil rights movement! I’m so tired of hearing that. Weren’t we still poor then because of bullshit like segregation and institutional discrimination? That’s why our community is disproportionately poor today, despite the strides we’ve made. More needs to be done to address the causes and effects of poverty but employers don’t want to pay living wages. They shirk their obligations and pass the bill onto the tapayers who then turn around and blame the victims. Our profits and productivity have increased but our minimum wage hasn’t. The cost of living has gone way way up, but the wages have stayed the same. And people wonder why their is an achievement/income gap and less social mobility? GTFOH

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