Time and Life

by Wendy Wang

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The link between a college education and a lasting marriage

Originally posted on Pew Research Center “Fact Tank.”

ft_15-12-4-college-marriage2About half of first marriages in the U.S. are likely to survive at least 20 years, according to government estimates. But for one demographic group, marriages last longer than most: College-educated women have an almost eight-in-ten chance of still being married after two decades.

Researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics estimate that 78% of college-educated women who married for the first time between 2006 and 2010 could expect their marriages to last at least 20 years. But among women who have a high school education or less, the share is only 40%.

The probability of a lasting first marriage is derived from marital history data from the National Survey of Family Growth, a nationally representative sample of women and men who were ages 15 to 44 between 2006 and 2010. Estimates are based on an approach similar to that used to determine life expectancy and assume that marriage patterns in the future will follow patterns today. The findings refer only to opposite-sex marriages; the sample size was too small to analyze same-sex marriages.

Reasons for marriages ending include divorce and separation. Marriages that ended in death were not included in the analysis. One limitation of the survey was that it did not include adults over age 44 and therefore does not take into account long-term marriages that started later in life. And adults with advanced degrees were not separately analyzed because of the small sample size.

The findings are yet further evidence of the marriage gap in the U.S. along educational lines. College-educated adults are more likely to be married than less-educated adults. Among those who were ages 25 and older in 2014, 65% of those with a bachelor’s degree or more were married, compared with 53% of adults with less education, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

While the research does not address reasons these marriages last longer, we do know college-educated adults marry later in life and are more financially secure than less-educated adults.

While more-educated women have the highest chances for a long-term marriage, college-educated men also stand out. Roughly two-thirds (65%) of men with a bachelor’s degree could expect that, if they marry, their first marriage will last 20 years or longer, compared with 50% of men with a high school diploma or less. In addition, men with a higher level of education are more likely to get married in the first place when compared with less-educated men.

ft_15-12-03-race_-marriageThere also are distinctive patterns in marriage longevity by race and ethnicity. Some of these differences could be related toeducational differences among adults with different racial or ethnic backgrounds. Asian women, who are among the most educated, are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to have a long-term marriage. For Asian women who were married for the first time between 2006 and 2010, the chance that they may celebrate their 20-year wedding anniversary is nearly 70%. By contrast, about half of Hispanic and white women may see their marriages last that long. And for black women, the chance is 37%.

Among men, Hispanics have the highest likelihood of being in a long-lasting marriage (findings about Asian men are not included because the sample size was too small to be nationally representative). For those who married for the first time between 2006 and 2010, about six-in-ten Hispanic men (62%) could expect their marriages to last at least 20 years, compared with 54% of white men and 53% of black men.

ft_15-12-03-cohabitation-marriageAnother factor linked to long-lasting marriages is whether couples live together before tying the knot. In short, couples who lived together before getting married had a slightly lower chance of having a long-term marriage than those who did not live together.

Among women who did not live with their spouse before getting married for the first time, 57% can expect to still be married after 20 years. For women who lived with their spouse before marriage, the probability of being married for at least 20 years is somewhat lower – 46%. Whether the couple was engaged when they lived together didn’t make a difference in women’s chances of long-lasting marriages.

For men, the patterns are slightly different. In this case, it matters whether men are engaged to a partner they lived with before getting married. Men who lived with their future spouse without being engaged had a slightly lower chance of having a long-term marriage (49%) than those who were engaged first (57%). Men who didn’t live with their partner before getting married had a 60% chance of celebrating their 20th anniversary.

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Seven facts about intermarriage

1. Most intermarriages happen between whites and non-whites in the U.S.. In 2010, seven-in-ten (70%) new intermarriages involved a white spouse. The most common pairings were between whites and Hispanics. They accounted for more than four-in-ten new intermarriages in 2010. The share of White/Asian couples was 14%, and white/black couples 12%.

2. Asian Americans has one of the highest intermarriage rates. In 2010, 28% of newly married Asians “married out,” compared with 26% of Hispanic newlyweds, 17% of black and 9% of white newlyweds. If we look at all currently married couples (regardless of when they got married), the intermarriage rate is 15% for Asians, 18% for Hispanics, 10% for blacks and 5% for whites. The Asian intermarriage rate has gone down somewhat in recent years.

3. Black men are more than twice as likely as their female counterparts to marry a non-black spouse, but the reverse gender pattern is true among Asian Americans. In 2010, nearly one quarter of black male newlyweds (24%) married outside their race, compared with just about 9% of black female newlyweds. In contrast, more than one-in-three (36%) Asian female newlyweds in 2010 married someone who is non-Asian, compared with only about one-in-six Asian male newlyweds (17%).

4. “Marrying out” is much more common among the native-born population than among immigrants. Native-born Hispanics were nearly three times as likely as their foreign born counterparts to marry a non-Hispanic in 2010.The disparity among native and foreign-born Asians is not as great, but still significant: More than one-in-three (38%) native-born Asians and nearly a quarter (24%) of foreign-born Asians married a non-Asian in 2010.

5. White/Asian intermarried couples have the highest earning power. The combined median earnings of white/Asian newlywed couples are nearly $71,000, much higher than earnings of white/Hispanic couples (about $58,000) and white/black couples (about $53,000). White/Asian couples have higher combined earnings than do white/white or Asian/Asian couples.

Much of the earning gaps among couples can be linked to educational differences. In about four-in-ten intermarried white/Asian newlyweds (41%) both husband and wife are college educated, compared with 23% of white/white couples, 19% of white/Hispanic couples, and 15% white/black couples. (Asian/Asian couples are the most educated, but their combined earnings are somewhat lower than white/Asian couples).

6. First-time newlyweds (for both bride and groom) made up about 58% of all newly married couples between 2008 and 2010. About one-in-five (20.5%) new marriages were for couples that both bride and groom have been married before, and the rest involved one married before, one not.

The vast majority of Asian and Hispanic couples who “married in” are the first time newlyweds (79% and 68%). The rate for intermarried white/Hispanic and white/Asian couples is lower, about six-in-ten (59%). First-time marriage rate for white/white couples is slightly lower (55%), and a similar rate applies to black couples and intermarried white/black couples (about 54%).

7. Intermarriage in the Unites States tilts West. About one-in-five (22%) of all newlyweds in Western states married someone of a different race or ethnicity between 2008 and 2010, compared with 14% in the South, 13% in the Northeast, and 11% in the Midwest.

At the state level, more than four-in-ten (42%) of newlyweds in Hawaii between 2008 and 2010 were intermarried; the other states with an intermarriage rate of 20% or more are all situated west of the Mississippi River. For marriages between whites and Hispanics, the three states with the highest prevalence rates are New Mexico (19%), Arizona (12%) and Nevada (11%). The highest shares of intermarried white and Asian couples are in Hawaii (9%), District of Columbia (7%), and Nevada (5%). And the top three states for white/black intermarried couples are: Virginia (3.3%), North Carolina (3.2%) and Kansas (3.0%).

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Why is Intermarriage Important ?

Having worked on a couple of reports about intermarriage in the U.S., I get this question often: Why do we care about who marries whom?

“Intermarriage” refers to unions between people of different races or ethnicities. To many sociologists, racial and ethnic intermarriage is a barometer of racial/ethnic relations in America. Partners in a marriage accept each other as equals, and their friends/families also get a chance to mingle. Marriages across racial and ethnic lines therefore help to break down social barriers between groups. Intermarriages could also change the definition of race in this country, as more children identify themselves as multiple races . We are becoming “a nation of mutts”, as David Brooks wrote recently.

For most of this nation’s history, a majority of states had anti-miscegenation laws that made it illegal for whites and nonwhites to marry. The first such laws were passed in the 1600s to prevent freed Black slaves from marrying Whites, as well as  biracial children of white slave owners and African slaves from inheriting property. As Asian Immigrants came to the U.S. in the 1700s and 1800s, anti-miscegenation laws were passed to prohibit Asians from marrying Whites.

The effects of these laws were far-reaching. For example, earlier Chinese immigrants were mostly young single men. They were not allowed to bring women from their country to the U.S. (if they got married). Many of them returned to China, and those who stayed rarely got married and had offsprings.

After World War II, many states repealed these laws. It was in 1967, during the height of the civil Rights Movement, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Loving v. Virginia declared anti-miscegenation laws that remained in 15 states unconstitutional.


America is much more racially and ethnically diverse than it was five decades ago.The once-illegal intermarriage now has reached a historical high. As of 2010, the share of all current marriages that are either interracial or interethnic reached an all-time high of 8.4%, and one-in-seven new U.S. marriages was between people of different races or ethnicities. Marriages between whites and non-whites are the most common types of intermarriage, which accounts for seven-in-ten (70%) new intermarriages in 2010.

The American public is more accepting of intermarriage as well. Nearly two thirds of Americans (63%) say they would be fine with a member of their own family marrying someone of a difference race, while only one-third of the public accepted intermarriage in 1986.

I will write more about intermarriage in future blog posts. Stay tuned!