European Journal of Population

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 663–687 | Cite as

His and Her Education and Marital Dissolution: Adding a Contextual Dimension

  • Lindsay Theunis
  • Christine Schnor
  • Didier Willaert
  • Jan Van Bavel


Educationally hypogamous marriages, where the wife is more educated than the husband, have been expected to be less stable than other educational pairings, in part because they do not conform to social norms. With the reversal of the gender gap in education, such marriages have become more common than in the past. Recent research suggests that this new context might be beneficial for the stability of hypogamous unions compared to other educational pairings. Here, we investigate how educational matches in married couples are associated with divorce risks taking into account the local prevalence of hypogamy. Using Belgian census and register data for 458,499 marriages contracted between 1986 and 2001, we show that hypogamy was not associated with higher divorce rates than homogamy in communities where hypogamy was common. Against expectations, marriages in which the husband was more educated than the wife tend to exhibit the highest divorce rates. More detailed analysis of the different types of educational matches revealed that marriages with at least one highly educated partner, male or female, were less divorce prone compared to otherwise similar couple types.


Assortative mating Divorce Education Hypogamy 



The authors are very grateful to Gray Swicegood (University of Illinois), Christine Schwartz (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions. Special thanks go to the research group Interface Demograpy of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel for the support in allowing access to their data and infrastructure. Earlier versions of this manuscript have been presented at the 12th Meeting of the European Network for the Sociological and Demographic Study of Divorce (2014) in Paris; the 40th Chaire Quetelet Conference (2014) in Louvain-la-Neuve; and the Annual meeting of the Population Association of America (2015) in San Diego.


This study was funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement No. 312290 for the GENDERBALL project.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Becker, G. S. (1981). A treatise on the family (p. 288). London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Becker, G. S., Landes, E. M., & Michael, R. T. (1977). An economic analysis of marital instability. The Journal of Political Economy, 85(6), 1141–1187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Belgische Federale Overheidsdiensten (2016). Huwelijksformaliteiten.
  4. Berrington, A., & Diamond, I. (1999). Marital dissolution among the 1958 British birth cohort: The role of cohabitation. Population Studies, 53(1), 19–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Billingsley, S., Drefahl, S., & Ghilagaber, G. (2016). Diagonal reference models in longitudinal analyses of fertility and mortality. Stockholm Research Reports in Demography n°3. Stockholm: Demography Unit, Stockholm University.Google Scholar
  6. Blackwell, D. L., & Lichter, D. T. (2004). Homogamy among dating, cohabiting, and married couples. Sociological Quarterly, 45(4), 719–737.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blossfeld, H.-P. (2009). Educational assortative marriage in comparative perspective. Annual Review of Sociology, 35(1), 513–530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blossfeld, G. J. (2014). Educational assortative mating and divorce: A longitudinal analysis of the influences of education on the divorce rate for different educational matches. Paper presented at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, Boston.Google Scholar
  9. Blossfeld, H.-P., & Timm, A. (2003). Educational systems as marriage markets in modern societies: A conceptual framework. In H.-P. Blossfeld & A. Timm (Eds.), Who marries whom? Educational systems as marriage markets in modern societies (pp. 1–18). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Breen, R., & Cooke, L. P. (2005). The persistence of the gendered division of domestic labour. European Sociological Review, 21(1), 43–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brines, J. (1994). Economic dependency, gender, and the division of labor at home. American Journal of Sociology, 100(3), 652–688.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bumpass, L. L., Castro Martin, T., & Sweet, J. A. (1991). The impact of family background and early marital disruption. Journal of Family Issues, 12, 22–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Buss, D. M., Shackelford, T. K., Kirkpatrick, L. A., & Larsen, R. J. (2001). A half century of mate preferences: The cultural evolution of values. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(2), 491–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carlson, D. L., Miller, A. J., Sassler, S., & Hanson, S. (2016). The gendered division of housework and couples’ sexual relationships: A reexamination. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78(4), 975–995.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Casterline, J. B. (Ed.). (2001). Diffusion processes and fertility transition: Introduction. In Diffusion processes and fertility transition: Selected perspectives (pp. 1–38). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  16. Cherlin, A. J. (2016). A happy ending to a half-century of family change? Population and Development Review, 42(1), 121–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cleves, M., Gutierrez, R. G., Gould, W., & Marchenko, Y. V. (2010). An introduction to survival analysis using stata. Texas: Stata Press.Google Scholar
  18. Cooke, L. P. (2006). “Doing gender” in context: Household bargaining and the risk of divorce in Germany and the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 112(2), 442–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. de Feijter, H. (1991). Voorlopers bij demografische veranderingen. The Hague: Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute.Google Scholar
  20. De Hauw, Y., Grow, A., & Van Bavel, J. (2017). the reserved gender gap in education and assortative mating in Europe. European Journal of Population, 33(40), 445–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. DiPrete, T. A., & Buchmann, C. (2006). Gender-specific trends in the value of education and the emerging gender gap in college completion. Demography, 43(1), 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dykstra, P. A., & Poortman, A.-R. (2010). Economic resources and remaining single: Trends over time. European Sociological Review, 26(3), 277–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Eeckhaut, M. C. W. (2017). Contraceptive sterilization: Introducing a couple perspective to examine sociodemographic differences in use. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. Scholar
  24. Eeckhaut, M. C. W., Lievens, J., Van de Putte, B., & Lusyne, P. (2011). Partner selection and divorce in ethnic minorities: Distinguishing between two types of ethnic homogamous marriages. International Migration Review, 45(2), 269–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Eeckhaut, M. C. W., Van de Putte, B., Gerris, J. R. M., & Vermulst, A. A. (2013). Analysing the effect of educational differences between partners: A methodological/theoretical comparison. European Sociological Review, 29(1), 60–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Esteve, A., Garcia-Roman, J., & Permanyer, I. (2012). The gender-gap reversal in education and its effect on union formation: The end of hypergamy. Population and Development Review, 38(3), 535–546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Esteve, A., Schwartz, C. R., Van Bavel, J., Permanyer, I., Klesment, M., & Garcia, J. (2016). The end of hypergamy: Global trends and implications. Population and Development Review, 42(4), 615–625.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Finnäs, F. (1997). Social integration, heterogeneity, and divorce: The case of the Swedish-speaking population in Finland. Acta Sociologica, 40, 263–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Goldscheider, F. K., Bernhardt, E., & Lappegård, T. (2015). The gender revolution: A framework for understanding changing family and demographic behavior. Population and Development Review, 41(2), 207–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Goldstein, J. R., & Harknett, K. (2006). Parenting across racial and class lines: Assortative mating patterns of new parents who are married, cohabiting, dating or no longer romantically involved. Social Forces, 85(1), 121–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Grow, A., Schnor, C., & Van Bavel, J. (forthcoming). The reversal of the gender gap in education and relative divorce risks: A matter of alternatives in partner choice? Population Studies.Google Scholar
  32. Grow, A., & Van Bavel, J. (2015). Assortative mating and the reversal of gender inequality in education in Europe—An agent-based model. PLoS ONE, 10(6), 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Guo, G. (1993). Event-history analysis for left-truncated data. Social Methodology, 23, 217–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Haandrikman, K., Harmsen, C., van Wissen, L. J. G., & Hutter, I. (2008). Geography matters: Patterns of spatial homogamy in the Netherlands. Population, Space and Place, 14(5), 387–405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Härkönen, J., & Dronkers, J. (2006). Stability and change in the educational gradient of divorce. A comparison of seventeen countries. European Sociological Review, 22(5), 501–517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Heaton, T. B. (2002). Factors contributing to increasing marital stability in the United States. Journal of Family Issues, 23(3), 392–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Jalovaara, M. (2003). The joint effects of marriage partners’ socioeconomic positions on the risk of divorce. Demography, 40(1), 67–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Jalovaara, M. (2013). Socioeconomic resources and the dissolution of cohabitations and marriages. European Journal of Population, 29, 167–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Jappens, M., & Van Bavel, J. (2012). Regional family norms and child care by grandparents in Europe. Demographic Research, 27, 85–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kalmijn, M. (1994). Assortative mating by cultural and economic occupational status. American Journal of Sociology, 100(2), 422–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kalmijn, M. (1998). Intermarriage and homogamy: Causes, patterns, trends. Annual Review of Sociology, 24, 395–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kalmijn, M. (2003). Union disruption in the Netherlands: Opposing influences of task specialization and assortative mating? International Journal of Sociology, 33(2), 36–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kalmijn, M. (2007). Explaining cross-national differences in marriage, cohabitation, and divorce in Europe, 1990–2000. Population Studies, 61(3), 243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kalmijn, M., de Graaf, P., & Janssen, J. (2005). Intermarriage and the risk of divorce in the Netherlands: The effects of differences in religion and in nationality, 1974–94. Population Studies, 59(1), 71–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kaplan, A., & Herbst, A. (2015). Stratified patterns of divorce: Earnings, education, and gender. Demographic Research, 32(34), 949–982.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Killewald, A. (2016). Money, work, and marital stability: Assessing change in the gendered determinants of divorce. American Sociological Review, 81(4), 696–719.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kravdal, Ø., & Noack, T. (1989). Like marries like—The safest choice? A brief study of homogamy and heterogamy in Norwegian marriages. Scandinavian Population Studies, 9, 243–257.Google Scholar
  48. Kreager, D. A., Felson, R. B., Warner, C., & Wenger, M. R. (2013). Women’s education, marital violence, and divorce: A social exchange perspective. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75(3), 565–581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kulu, H. (2012). Spatial variation in divorce and separation: Compositional or contextual effects? Population, Space and Place, 18, 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Levinger, G. (1976). A social psychological perspective on marital dissolution. Journal of Social Issues, 32(1), 21–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lewis, R. A., & Spanier, G. B. (1979). Theorizing about the quality and stability of marriage. In W. R. Burr, R. Hill, F. I. Nye, & I. L. Reiss (Eds.), Contemporary theories of the family (Vol. 1, pp. 268–294). New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  52. Liefbroer, A. C., & Dourleijn, E. (2006). Unmarried cohabitation and union stability: Testing the role of diffusion using data from 16 European countries. Demography, 43(2), 203–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Luyten, S., & E. Van Hecke (2007). De Belgische stadsgewesten 2001, Statistics Belgium Working Paper 14, Algemene Directie Statistiek en Economische Informatie.Google Scholar
  54. Lyngstad, T. H. (2004). The impact of parent’s and spouses’ education on divorce rates in Norway. Demographic Research, 10, 121–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Lyngstad, T. H. (2006). Why do couples with highly educated parents have higher divorce rates? European Sociological Review, 22(1), 49–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Lyngstad, T. H. (2011). Does community context have an important impact on divorce risk? A fixed-effects study of twenty Norwegian first-marriage cohorts. European Journal of Population, 27(1), 57–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Lyngstad, T. H., & Jalovaara, M. (2010). A review of the antecedents of union dissolution. Demographic Research, 23, 257–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Mäenpää, E., & Jalovaara, M. (2013). The effects of homogamy in socio-economic background and education on the transition from cohabitation to marriage. Acta Sociologica, 56(3), 247–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Mäenpää, E., & Jalovaara, M. (2014). Homogamy in socio-economic background and education, and the dissolution of cohabiting unions. Demographic Research, 30(65), 1769–1792.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Mäenpää, E., & Jalovaara, M. (2015). Achievement replacing ascription? Changes in homogamy in education and social class origins in Finland. Advances in Life Course Research, 26, 76–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Manlove, J., Wildsmith, E., Ikramullah, E., Ryan, S., Holcombe, E., Scott, M., et al. (2012). Union transitions following the birth of a child to cohabiting parents. Population Research and Policy Review, 31(3), 361–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Mills, M. (2011). Introducing survival and event history analysis (p. 279). London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Mortelmans, D., Snoeckx, L., & Dronkers, J. (2009). Cross-regional divorce risks in Belgium: Culture or legislative system? Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 50(8), 541–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Müller, R. (2003). Union disruption in West Germany. Educational homogeneity, children, and trajectories in marital and nonmarital unions. International Journal of Sociology, 33(2), 3–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Nock, S. L. (2001). The marriages of equally dependent spouses. Journal of Family Issues, 22(6), 756–777.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Nomes E., & Van Bavel J. (forthcoming). Education and marriage: The shift from hypergamy to hypogamy in Belgium, a 20th century cohort analysis. Revue Quetelet/Quetelet Jorunal.Google Scholar
  67. Oppenheimer, V. K. (1988). A theory of marriage timing: Assortative mating under varying degrees of uncertainty. American Journal of Sociology, 94(3), 563–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Oppenheimer, V. K. (1997). Women’s employment and the gain to marriage: The specialization and trading model. Annual Review of Sociology, 23, 431–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Pessin, L. (2017). Divorce trends and changing gender norms in the United States: A Micro-Macro Approach. J Marriage Fam. Scholar
  70. Poortman, A.-R., & Lyngstad, T. H. (2007). Dissolution risks in first and higher order marital and cohabiting unions. Social Science Research, 36(4), 1431–1446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Schwartz, C. R. (2010). Pathways to educational homogamy in marital and cohabiting unions. Demography, 47(3), 735–753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Schwartz, C. R. (2013). Trends and variation in assortative mating: Causes and consequences. Annual Review of Sociology, 39, 451–470.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Schwartz, C. R., & Gonalons-Pons, P. (2016). Trends in relative earnings and marital dissolution: Are wives who outearn their husbands still more likely to divorce? RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 2(4), 218–236.Google Scholar
  74. Schwartz, C. R., & Han, H. (2014). The reversal of the gender gap in education and trends in marital dissolution. American Sociological Review, 79(4), 605–629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Sobel, M. E. (1985). Social mobility and fertility revisited: Some new models for the analysis of the mobility effects hypothesis. American Sociological Review, 50(5), 699–712.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. South, S. J., Trent, K., & Shen, Y. (2001). Changing partners: Toward a macrostructural-opportunity theory of marital dissolution. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(3), 743–754.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Sweeney, M. M. (2002). Two decades of family change: The shifting economic foundations of marriage. American Sociological Review, 67, 132–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Sweeney, M. M., & Cancian, M. (2004). The changing importance of white woman’s economic prospects for assortative mating. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(4), 1015–1028.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Teachman, J. D. (2002). Stability across cohorts in divorce risk factors. Demography, 39(2), 331–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Thornton, A. (2001). The developmental paradigm, reading history sideways, and family change. Demography, 38(4), 449–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Tichenor, V. (2005). Maintaining men’s dominance: Negotiating identity and power when she earns more. Sex Roles, 53(3–4), 191–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Tzeng, M.-S. (1992). The effects of socioeconomic heterogamy and changes on marital dissolution for first marriages. Journal of Marriage and Family, 54(3), 609–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Van Bavel, J. (2012). The reversal of gender inequality in education, union formation and fertility in Europe. Vienna Yearbook of Population Research, 10, 127–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Van den Troost, A. (2000). De relationele markt anno 2000. Een exploratie van waardeoriëntaties en vormgeving. Tijdschrift voor Sociologie, 21(2), 131–158.Google Scholar
  85. Verbakel, E., & Kalmijn, M. (2014). Assortative mating among Dutch married and cohabiting same-sex and different-sex couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(1), 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Vincent-Lancrin, S. (2008). The reversal of gender inequalities in higher education: An on-going trend. In Higher Education to 2030. Volume 1: Demography (Vol. 1, pp. 265–298). Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  87. Wagner, M., & Weiss, B. (2006). On the variation of divorce risks in Europe: Findings from a meta-analysis of European longitudinal studies. European Sociological Review, 22(5), 483–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Weiss, Y., & Willis, R. J. (1997). Match quality, new information, and marital dissolution. Journal of Labor Economics, 15(1), S293–S329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Zentner, M., & Eagly, A. H. (2015). A sociocultural framework for understanding partner preferences of women and men: Integration of concepts and evidence. European Review of Social Psychology, 26(1), 328–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Sociological ResearchUniversity of LeuvenLouvainBelgium
  2. 2.Department of SociologyVrije Universiteit BrusselBrusselsBelgium

Personalised recommendations