Study Finds Women Are More Likely to Marry Less Educated Men These Days

Men have long been considered the “breadwinners” while women have often been seen as homemakers, or worse, reduced to “trophy wives,” a term used to describe women who theoretically marry educated, successful men for financial gain. But the antiquated idea of how a traditional marriage looks is shifting, thanks to increased access to education (fun fact: women are more likely than men to have earned a bachelor’s degree by age 29) and the notable gains made by women in professional and managerial occupations.

It’s no longer rare for women to out-earn their husbands, and a recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Demography further proves that times are changing. The authors found that more men are “marrying up” (aka marrying above your economic class) than women. “The pattern of marriage and its economic consequences have changed over time,” lead author ChangHwan Kim, PhD, associate professor of sociology at the University of Kansas, said in a statement. “Now women are more likely to get married to a less-educated man.”

To reach this conclusion, the researchers examined gender-specific changes in the total financial return to education among people of prime working ages (35 to 44 years old), using U.S. Census data from 1990 and 2000 and the 2009-2011 American Community Survey. This data showed that that “the number of highly educated women exceeds the number of highly educated men in the marriage market.”

They also found that women's personal income grew faster than men's during this time, and as a result, a husband's contribution to family income has declined while the wife's has increased. With women bringing more to the table, it turns out that men are still the ones profiting, so to speak: “This has led to a faster improvement of the family standard of living for men than for equally educated women themselves,” Kim said, adding that this could explain why we don’t hear a lot of men complaining about the fact that they are no longer the ones who wear the proverbial pants in a relationship.

“Marriage is now becoming more egalitarian and becoming equal,” said Kim. “If you look at gender dynamics or from a marriage-equality standpoint, that is a really good sign.”