Academic divide linked to divorce
WOMEN with tertiary educations who choose as a partner men who have not finished high school are 10 times more likely to separate or get divorced than women whose education is less than or equal to their partner’s.
The finding is contained in a new study by researchers at the Australian National University commissioned by the federal Government, which looks at the factors behind the break-up of Australian families with children.
The project used Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey data to investigate the factors that preceded the end of relationships.
The research, conducted by ANU’s Centre for Mental Health Research and the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, considered whether mental health problems, hazardous levels of alcohol consumption and smoking were associated with divorce or separation. It found that education was a key factor in relationship stability.
“Compared to couples in which partners had similar levels of educational qualifications, those couples in which women reported tertiary qualifications and men reported not completing high school had a tenfold greater risk of divorce/separation,” it says.
“This may reflect two factors. Firstly, women’s educational attainment may be a proxy for financial independence and, thus, the opportunity for women to support themselves outside of the marriage. This removes a potential barrier to divorce or separation.
“Secondly, these couples may experience greater conflict or dissatisfaction within the relationship, perhaps associated with the fact that they are not fulfilling the traditional gendered roles within marriage.”
The analysis found couples with the opposite pattern of educational attainment — where men had the tertiary qualifications and women did not complete high school — did not demonstrate an increased risk of subsequent marital instability and, if anything, showed greater than average stability.
The lowest rate of separation was found among couples where both partners reported tertiary qualifications.
The study also found there was no association between alcohol consumption and relationship instability.
But couples in which women were smokers — regardless of whether the male partner smoked — were at increased risk of divorce or separation.
“We consider that this reflects the effectiveness of women’s smoking as a marker of social and economic disadvantage and adversity,” the report says.
The study found that marital stability was associated with the birth of a child within marriage and older age at marriage, and that religion was important in the couple’s lives.