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College Graduates from Poor Backgrounds Less Likely to Marry

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In general, a college education doesn’t just mean more job opportunities — graduates are also more likely to get married and less likely to divorce. But new research finds this isn’t always true for those who are economically disadvantaged.

Kelly Musick, a sociologist at Cornell University, and her colleagues studied data from 3,200 Americans gathered by the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a group that was followed from adolescence into adulthood. They found that for the least-advantaged men and women, college actually reduced the odds of marriage by 38 percent and 22 percent, respectively.

Wealthier men who go to college, on the other hand, increased their likelihood of marriage by 31 percent, and wealthier women increased their odds by 8 percent.

Musick said these disparate findings could be the result of disadvantaged people feeling a college education traps them between social worlds.

“College students are becoming more diverse in their social backgrounds, but they nonetheless remain a socioeconomically select group,” she said in a statement. “It may be difficult for students from less privileged backgrounds to navigate social relationships on campus, and these difficulties may affect what students ultimately gain from the college experience.”

Put simply, college students from low-socioeconomic-status backgrounds may be reluctant to “marry down” to partners with less education, but they also may not “marry up” to partners with more privileged backgrounds.

“This research demonstrates the importance of differentiating between social background and educational achievement,” Musick said. “Educational achievement may go far in reducing income differences between men and women from different social backgrounds, but social and cultural distinctions may persist in social and family relationships.”

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