Similar, but still different? Heterogamy in study discipline among highly educated couples and their risk of divorce

Lindsay Theunis, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Christine Schnor, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Jan Van Bavel, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

In recent decades, the gender gap in higher education has reversed in favour of women. This has encouraged scholars to reinvestigate the educational gradient in relationship outcomes. Yet, research has mainly focused on one dimension of educational achievement, namely the level of education. We believe that the field of education might be at least as relevant for union stability as the level of education. Although young women form the majority of those enrolled in advanced education, they are still heavily under-represented in study disciplines that lead to lucrative and powerful jobs. A strong family orientation might encourage women to study a discipline with working conditions that are more compatible with motherhood. In this paper, we investigate whether divorce risks differ according to his and her field of education in the generally least divorce-prone group of highly educated homogamous couples. On the one hand, it can be expected that study disciplines with higher earnings prospects are related to higher marital stability, as it offers more financial security. On the other hand, it can be argued that homogamy in study disciplines increases marital stability, as similar work-life preferences might decrease tensions and frustrations related to dissimilarity. We use data from the 2001 Belgian Census, linked to the Population Registers from 2001 to 2006. In preliminary analyses, we focused on couples where both partners have a university degree and distinguished between 7 fields of education, ordered from low to highly male-dominated. The latter are more often related to higher earnings prospects. When combining spouses’ fields of education, we found relatively low dissolution rates for gender-traditional marriages (wife graduated in more female-dominated field than husband) in which the husband graduated in technical engineering, the most male-dominated field. The highest dissolution rates were found among gender-atypical combinations (husband graduated in more female-dominated field than wife).

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Presented in Poster Session 3