Not all women who come to TCU are looking for a man who will plant a fat rock on their left hand come graduation. But those college relationships that do turn into marriages may end up better than some would like to believe.Media sources often repeat the statistic that claims half of all marriages end in divorce, and most divorces occur during the first seven years of marriages. It would seem like couples getting married right out of college are setting themselves up to crash and burn, right?
Maybe not. In fact, recent research shows that not half of all marriages end in divorce and that couples who have college degrees have a lower divorce rate than those who don’t.
The media often incorrectly report the divorce rate in the United States at around 50 percent, meaning one of every two marriages would end in divorce. This conclusion is reached by an erroneous, commonly used equation that compares the marriage rate per thousand people with the annual rate of divorce, two entirely separate numbers.
Comparing the divorce rate with the marriage rate cannot accurately provide an accurate statistic because it does not track the percentage of people who get married and their likelihood of getting divorced, an expert in the area says.
Steven P. Martin, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, whose research focuses on the success of marriage, said the rate of divorce nationally is actually decreasing.
The statistics for the rate of divorce in Texas reflect the decline among national divorce rates, especially for young people.
“There has been a steady decline in divorce rates, and rates of marital dissolution, including permanent separation, have been declining more slowly,” Martin said.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, in the year 2003, 29 percent of all divorces occurred when the woman was younger than 30.
This is a significant drop from 1993, where 40 percent of divorces occurred when the woman was younger than 30.
The 2003 statistics for Tarrant County are slightly less than the state, with 27 percent of all divorces occurring with women younger than 30.
The fact that divorce rates in Tarrant County are slightly lower than the rest of the state is most likely related to the fact that Tarrant County houses several institutions of higher education, namely TCU, Martin said.
“This overall decline reflects a drop in marital dissolutions among college graduates and a steady or slightly rising rate for couples of lower educational attainment,” Martin said.
The question of why couples with more education get divorced less often is not easily answered, as researchers often reach several varying conclusions.
According to one local sociologist, college graduates get married at a slightly older age, which decreases the likelihood of getting divorced.
Jean Giles-Sims, a sociology professor at TCU, also said adults who have graduated from college have often fulfilled more of their adult goals.
Martin said the explanation may be a more complicated combination of several factors working in conjunction with one another.
“One explanation is demographic,” Martin said. “Highly educated couples tend to marry at later ages when they are more mature and are less likely to have children before marrying.
“Another explanation has to do with simple stress and economics. Highly educated couples tend to have higher and steadier incomes than less educated couples and so tend to have correspondingly less stress in marriage. A third explanation contends that highly educated couples tend to have better communication skills that might strengthen marriages.”
Rachael Gross, a May 2005 graduate of the College of Communications who is getting married in late October, said graduating from college gave her an insight into the real world she would not have had if she had not gone to school.
“Not that I ever had plans of not going to college, but four years in school has developed my ability to communicate and handle challenging situations,” Gross said. “It’s not something that I think is as effectively developed outside of a college environment.”
Although getting married with a college degree factors into the probability of the union ending in divorce, statistics show that how young the couple is when they get married plays a factor as well.
Giles-Sims said it is important for students to evaluate their situations on a personal basis and make the best decision as an individual.
“(Students) should stay in school and focus on completing educational and personal goals before really committing to marriage,” Giles-Sims said.
Gross said her personal goals included graduating and eventually getting married.
“I didn’t plan my college career based around finding a husband,” Gross said. “But I also think I am probably more mature than people my age that didn’t go to college and can evaluate our decision to get married logically rather than just emotionally.”
Couples who marry without a college degree are also more likely to break up permanently without receiving a formal divorce, a type of dissolution that accounts for one-third of marital break-ups, Martin said, creating an even larger disparity in separation statistics.
Martin says these marriage dissolutions account for about one-third of marital break-ups and this disparity creates even stronger differences between rates of divorce between couples with college degrees and those without.
Giles-Sims said it is not practical to make predictions for individuals based on demographics, so the future remains uncertain.
Martin said he believes there are several varying outcomes the difference in divorce rates between graduates and nongraduates could result in.
“The optimistic prediction is that highly educated couples are going to be trend leaders, as they have often been in the past, and that marital dissolution rates will start to decline for everybody,” Martin said.
“A more pessimistic prediction would be that class differences in marriage are going to continue to be more pronounced, exacerbating already strong class differences between American families,” Martin said.
Gross said she thinks, if anything, marriage will begin to be the rule again, rather than the exception.
“If it’s true that college graduates are more likely to stay married, and more people than ever are continuing their education, then it seems only logical that more people will stay married longer,” Gross said.
End Note: Statistics used were derived from Texas Vital Statistics Unit (www.dshs.state.tx.us/vs/marriagedivorce/dindex.shtm)