The Reversed Gender Gap in Education and Assortative Mating in Europe



While in the past men received more education than women, the gender gap in education has turned around: in recent years, more highly educated women than highly educated men are reaching the reproductive ages. Using data from the European Social Survey (rounds 1–6), we investigate the implications of this reversed gender gap for educational assortative mating. We fit multilevel multinomial regression models to predict the proportions of men and women living with a partner of a given level of education, contingent on respondents’ own educational attainment and on the cohort-specific sex ratio among the population with tertiary education at the country level. We find that highly educated women tend to partner more often “downwards” with less educated men, rather than remaining single more often. Medium educated women are found to partner less often “upwards” with highly educated men. For men, there is no evidence that they are more likely to partner with highly educated women. Rather, they are found to be living single more often. In sum, women’s advantage in higher education has affected mating patterns in important ways: while women previously tended to form unions with men who were at least as highly educated as themselves, they now tend to live with men who are at most as highly educated. Along the way, advanced education became a bonus on the mating market for women as well as for men.


Education Assortative mating Gender Marriage market 


  1. Akers, D. S. (1967). On measuring the marriage squeeze. Demography, 4(2), 907–924.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Albrecht, C. M., & Albrecht, D. E. (2001). Sex ratio and family structure in the nonmetropolitan United States. Sociological Inquiry, 71(1), 67–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Albrecht, C. M., Fossett, M. A., Cready, C. M., & Kiecolt, K. J. (1997). Mate availability, women’s marriage prevalence, and husbands’ education. Journal of Family Issues, 18(4), 429–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Angrist, J. (2002). How do sex ratios affect marriage and labor markets? Evidence from America’s second generation. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 117(3), 997–1038.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Becker, G. S. (1981). A treatise on the family. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Blackwell, D. L. (1998). Marital homogamy in the United States: The influence of individual and paternal education. Social Science Research, 27(2), 159–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blossfeld, H.-P. (2009). Educational assortative marriage in comparative perspective. Annual Review of Sociology, 35, 513–530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blossfeld, H.-P., & Drobnič, S. (2001). Careers of couples in contemporary society. From male breadwinner to dual-earner families. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Blossfeld, H.-P., & Timm, A. (Eds.). (2003). Who marries whom? Educational systems as marriage markets in modern societies. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  10. Bumpass, L. L., Martin, T. C., & Sweet, J. A. (1991). The impact of family background and early marital factors on marital disruption. Journal of Family Issues, 12(1), 22–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clarkwest, A. (2007). Spousal dissimilarity, race, and marital dissolution. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69(3), 639–653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cready, C. M., Fossett, M. A., & Kiecolt, K. J. (1997). Mate availability and African American family structure in the U.S. nonmetropolitan south. Journal of Marriage and Family, 59(1), 192–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. De Hauw, Y., Piazza, F., & Van Bavel, J. (2014). Methodological report: The measurement of education-specific mating squeeze. FamiliesAndSocieties. Working paper series 16.Google Scholar
  14. 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
  15. Dykstra, P. A., & Poortman, A.-R. (2010). Economic resources and remaining single: Trends over time. European Sociological Review, 26(3), 277–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. England, P., & Farkas, G. (1986). Households, employment, and gender: A social, economic, and demographic view. New York: Adeline.Google Scholar
  17. Esteve, A., & Cortina, C. (2006). Changes in educational assortative mating in contemporary Spain. Demographic Research, 14, 405–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Esteve, A., García-Román, 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
  19. Glick, P. C., Heer, D. M., & Beresford, J. C. (1963). Family formation and family composition: Trends and prospects. In M. B. Sussman (Ed.), Sourcebook in marriage and the family (2nd ed., pp. 30–40). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  20. Grow, A., & Van Bavel, J. (2015). Assortative mating and the reversal of gender inequality in education in Europe: An agent-based model. PLoS ONE, 6(10), e0127806. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0127806.
  21. Guttentag, M., & Secord, P. F. (1983). Too many women? The sex ratio question. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  22. Hamplova, D. (2009). Educational homogamy among married and unmarried couples in Europe. Journal of Family Issues, 30(1), 28–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hiekel, N., Liefbroer, A. C., & Poortman, A.-R. (2014). Understanding diversity in the meaning of cohabitation across Europe. European Journal of Population, 30(4), 391–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kalmijn, M. (1991a). Shifting boundaries: Trends in religious and educational homogamy. American Sociological Review, 56(6), 786–800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kalmijn, M. (1991b). Status homogamy in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 97(2), 496–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kalmijn, M. (2013). The educational gradient in marriage: A comparison of 25 European countries. Demography, 50(4), 1499–1520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Klesment, M., & Van Bavel, J. (2015). The reversal of the gender gap in education and female breadwinners in Europe. Stockholm/Brussels: FamiliesAndSocieties. Working Paper Series 26.Google Scholar
  28. Lewis, S. K., & Oppenheimer, V. K. (2000). Educational assortative mating across marriage markets: Nonhispanic Whites in the United States. Demography, 37(1), 29–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lichter, D. T., Anderson, R. N., & Hayward, M. D. (1995). Marriage markets and marital choice. Journal of Family Issues, 16(4), 412–431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lichter, D. T., Mclaughlin, D. K., Kephart, G., & Landry, D. J. (1992). Race and the retreat from marriage: A shortage of marriageable men? American Sociological Review, 57(6), 781–799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lloyd, K. M., & South, S. J. (1996). Contextual influences on young men’s transition to first marriage. Social Forces, 74(3), 1097–1119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lutz, W., Goujon, A., Samir, K. C., & Sanderson, W. (2007). Reconstruction of populations by age, sex and level of educational attainment for 120 countries for 1970–2000. Vienna Yearbook of Population Research, 2007, 193–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mare, R. D. (1991). Five decades of educational assortative mating. American Sociological Review, 56(1), 15–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Oppenheimer, V. K. (1988). A theory of marriage timing. American Journal of Sociology, 94(3), 563–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Qian, Z. (1998). Changes in assortative mating: The impact of age and education, 1970–1990. Demography, 35(3), 279–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Qian, Z., & Preston, S. H. (1993). Changes in American marriage, 1972 to 1987: Availability and forces of attraction by age and education. American Sociological Review, 58(4), 482–495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Samir, K. C., Barakat, B., Goujon, A., Skirbekk, V., Sanderson, W. C., & Lutz, W. (2010). Projection of populations by level of educational attainment, age, and sex for 120 countries for 2005–2050. Demographic Research, 22, 383–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Schneider, S. (2010). Nominal comparability is not enough: (In-)equivalence of construct validity of cross-national measures of educational attainment in the European Social Survey. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 28(3), 343–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Schoen, R. (1983). Measuring the tightness of the marriage squeeze. Demography, 20(1), 61–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Schofer, E., & Meyer, J. W. (2005). The worldwide expansion of higher education in the twentieth education century. American Sociological Review, 70(6), 898–920.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Schwartz, C. R. (2010). Pathways to educational homogamy in marital and cohabiting unions. Demography, 47(3), 735–753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schwartz, C. R. (2013). Trends and variation in assortative mating: Causes and consequences. Annual Review of Sociology, 39, 451–470.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 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
  44. Schwartz, C. R., & Mare, R. D. (2005). Trends in educational assortative marriage from 1940 to 2003. Demographic Research, 42(4), 621–646.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Schwartz, C. R., & Mare, R. D. (2012). The proximate determinants of educational homogamy: The effects of first marriage, marital dissolution, remarriage, and educational upgrading. Demography, 49(2), 629–650.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Smits, J., Ultee, W., & Lammers, J. (1999). Occupational homogamy in eight countries of the European Union, 1975–89. Acta Sociologica, 42(1), 55–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Snijders, T. A. B., & Bosker, R. J. (1999). Multilevel analysis: An introduction to basic and advanced multilevel modeling. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  48. South, S. J. (1991). Sociodemographic differentials in mate selection preferences. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53(4), 928–940.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. South, S. J., & Lloyd, K. M. (1992). Marriage opportunities and family formation: Further implications of imbalanced sex ratios. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54(2), 440–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sweeney, M. M. (2002). Two decades of family change: The shifting economic foundations of marriage. American Journal of Sociology, 67(1), 132–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Theunis, L., Pasteels, I., & Van Bavel, J. (2015). Educational assortative mating after divorce: Persistence or divergence from first marriages? Zeitschrift für Familienforschung, 27, 183–202.Google Scholar
  52. Torr, B. M. (2011). The changing relationship between education and marriage in the United States, 1940-2000. Journal of Family History, 36(4), 483–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Uecker, J. E., & Regnerus, M. D. (2010). Bare market: Campus sex ratios, romantic relationships, and sexual behavior. The Sociological Quarterly, 51(3), 408–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 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
  55. Vincent-Lancrin, S. (2008). The reversal of gender inequalities in higher education: An ongoing trend. In Higher education to 2030: Demography, 265–298. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  56. Warner, T. D., Manning, W. D., Giordano, P. C., & Longmore, M. A. (2011). Relationship formation and stability in emerging adulthood: Do sex ratios matter? Social Forces, 90(1), 269–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wiik, K. A., & Dommermuth, L. (2014). Who remains unpartnered by mid-life in norway? Differentials by gender and education. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 45(3), 405–424.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Sociological Research (CeSO), Family and Population Studies (FaPOS)University of Leuven (KU Leuven)LeuvenBelgium

Personalised recommendations