Marital Disruption and Higher Education Among Women in the United States*

Sharon K. Houseknecht, Graham B. Spanier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The general inverse relationship between marital disruption (separation and divorce) and educational status, commonly assumed by family sociologists, is demonstrated for both men and women using the 1/1000 sample of the 1970 United States Census. A minor, but interesting exception to this generally inverse relationship is noted for males with six or more years of college. This paper, however, focuses on a more dramatic and particularly significant deviation from the general pattern. Specifically, highly educated females – those with five or more years of college – have an especially high disruption rate compared to women with only four years of college. In fact, the disruption rate for women with five or more years of college exceeds that for women at every educational level except those who did not finish high school. The objective of this study was to see if those factors which differentiate women with four years of college from those with five or more are the same factors that differentiate between the “never disrupted” and the “ever disrupted” women with five or more years of college. The findings reveal that three variables – race, employment outside the home, and income – are associated with the likelihood that highly educated women will divorce or separate. These same variables also distinguish them from baccalaureate‐level women. Four possible explanations, unrelated to the data analysis presented, are suggested for why a woman who enters graduate school significantly increases her probability of marital disruption.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)375-389
Number of pages15
JournalSociological Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1980

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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