Here’s Some Good News for College Women Who Marry

image of bride and college graduate alternating on grey background

IN THE SHADOW OF ONGOING DEBATES OVER THE USEFULNESS OF A UNIVERSITY EDUCATION, there may finally be some good news for women who invest their time and efforts into obtaining a college degree. New research from the US National Center for Health Statistics shows that degree-holding women who marry men are twice as likely as their less-educated peers to remain married for two decades or more. If nothing else, this information makes room for interesting conversations about the application of college life to the so-called “real world.”

Although completing a degree program help men to remain married longer as well, the benefit pays out at a considerably higher rate for women. Despite the difficulties that female college graduates encounter when looking for similarly-educated male partners, their first marriages have a 78 percent chance of lasting 20 years or longer, compared to only 40 percent for women without postsecondary educations. For men, these numbers are 65 percent and 51 percent, respectively.

But why does a college degree have any effect whatsoever in determining the success of a marriage?

A bachelor’s degree makes for a wise career investment in today’s economy. Degree-holders are unemployed at half the national average rate, and, with university enrollment and retention on the rise, more and more employers have added four-year degrees to their lists of requirements for open positions.

Keep in mind, however, that the employment a college-educated individual finds may not be in their career field. Those jokes about degree-holders working as baristas at the local Starbucks aren’t far off.

This goes a long way toward explaining why Millennials are putting off marriage, or foregoing it entirely. Both college and marriage require investments of time, energy, and finances. An attempt to finish a degree program while one maintains a serious relationship with another person could spell disaster for both education and matrimony. The sheer cost of a wedding — over $26,000 in the United States — makes marriage impractical for young people saddled with student loan debt and making less money than their parents did in the 1980s.

Money is one of the most important factors in a marriage, and don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise. As much as we’d all love to think that living on love is possible, research shows that couples who argue about money early in their relationships are at an increased risk for divorce — regardless of income, fidelity, or family size.

But, you protest, you can’t buy happiness! Your mother might have seemed sagely when she told you that, but a study from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School shows that happiness increases with income up to around $75,000. Feelings of sadness and stress become less and less frequent as wealth increases up to that point, and, until you hit that $75,000 mark, overall satisfaction increases with income. “So,” Time‘s Belinda Luscombe writes, “every 10% rise in annual income moves people up the satisfaction ladder the same amount, whether they’re making $25,000 or $100,000.”

This is not to say that we’re all Scrooge McDucks who want to swim in our pools full of gold and cash. Rather, a lack of money — which could solve larger problems like unreliable transportation, poor health, and homelessness — exacerbates smaller issues. If you’ve ever been impoverished, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Because their rate of unemployment is so low compared to the national average, individuals with college degrees have higher rates of financial stability than their less-educated peers. Yes, an inability to find work within one’s chosen field does create its own anxieties, but it’s much easier to plan your way out of that bind when you aren’t worried about where the money for your electric bill is going to come from. And although I’m sure rich couples argue about money, their tiffs — “You bought a yacht? I thought we were getting that house in the Hamptons!” — have far less dire implications than arguments over impulsive spending in lowest-income-bracket households.

It’s not difficult to see, then, how a four-year degree could contribute to marital success. Having a college education lowers the risk of unemployment and poverty. To remove the stressor of poverty is to drastically lower the chances that a couple will have serious arguments about their financial situation. Remove that chance, and you can almost double the likelihood of a successful marriage.

But completing a degree program has another positive implication for married individuals, one that few, if any, have noted. A former hiring manager once told me that a candidate with a college degree on her résumé — regardless of the field — had a leg-up on the competition, not because of any elitist value for education, but because obtaining a degree meant that that candidate had been taught to think critically and prioritize tasks.

What do those skills translate to in the “real world” of married life? Creative problem-solving and the wisdom to pick your battles.