Volume 38 - Article 41 | Pages 1241–1276

Why does women’s education stabilize marriages? The role of marital attraction and barriers to divorce

By Diederik Boertien, Juho Härkönen

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Date received:20 Jun 2017
Date published:05 Apr 2018
Word count:7715
Keywords:barriers to divorce, discrete-time event history, divorce, divorce trends, education and divorce, marriage, social stratification, women's education


Background: Despite widespread attention paid to the negative correlation between female education and divorce, we lack an explanation for it. In this study we use social exchange theory to assess two broad groups of explanations. According to the ‘marital attraction’ explanation, educated women’s marriages have higher marital quality and marital satisfaction. According to the ‘barriers to divorce’ explanation, educated women’s marriages include factors that raise the cost of divorcing. Many previous studies have referred to variants of the former explanation, whereas the latter has been less prominent. Our objective is to investigate the explanatory power of these two explanations.

Methods: We use discrete-time event history models to document the educational gradient of divorce from first marriages using the British Household Panel Survey (N = 1,263) for the years 1996–2009. We subsequently perform a mediation analysis to explain the educational gradient in divorce and a path analysis to distinguish which factors shape marital attraction and barriers to divorce.

Results: Female education is positively related to marital stability, but this association is only partly explained by educational differences in marital satisfaction and variables that shape attractions. Variables interpreted as affecting barriers to divorce, such as home ownership and having divorced parents, provide an at least equally important explanation of the educational gradient in divorce.

Contribution: This paper shows that the negative female educational gradient of divorce is shaped not only by educational differences in marital attraction, but also by differences in barriers to divorce.

Author's Affiliation

Diederik Boertien - Centre d'Estudis Demogràfics (CED), Spain [Email]
Juho Härkönen - European University Institute, Italy [Email]

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