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College is Not Just for Knowledge

It is for relationships, too

Brian Hubble illustration

Listen up millennials and the lovelorn, if you desire the good life, the straightest path leads through the college door. Money, marriage and a serene mental outlook are all linked to a college degree, recent research shows.

Sure, everyone knows that obtaining a college degree, or at least some kind of specialized training, is a must for earning a decent wage these days. But recent research shows that having a college degree is also a strong predictor of getting married, staying married and feeling all around good cheer later in life.

Money may not buy you love, as the saying goes, but it goes a long way in attracting a suitable mate. Face it, who lists “jobless” on a list of must haves in a desirable relationship?

Pew Research Center reports have documented the relationship between education attainment and income. A report entitled “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” says that only 3.8 percent of adults between 25 and 32 with a bachelor’s degree were jobless in 2012 compared to 12.2 percent of adults with a high school degree or less.

College graduates also earn $18,000 more annually on average than their peers who didn’t get the higher degree, the report says. Bachelor degree holders currently earn $45,500 on average, the report says, while people with only a high school degree earn about $28,000.

Other studies have shown that over a lifetime, the person with a two-year associate’s degree will earn about $500,000 more than a high school graduate and a person with a bachelor’s degree will earn about $1 million more.

Considering the income gap, it isn’t surprising that Pew surveys show that college graduates are more satisfied with their employment than high school graduates are.

Getting married and sticking to it are the most recently discovered perks of extending the learning years. The number of people choosing to marry continues to slide, but a December 2015 Pew report says that adults over 25 who hold a bachelor degree or higher are “more likely to be married.” In ’14, 65 percent of degree holders were married compared to 53 percent of adults with a high school degree or less.

The marriage link is especially rosy for college-educated women. The report says that the National Center for Health Statistics estimates that “78 percent of college-educated women who married for the first time between 2006 and ’10 could expect their marriages to last at least 20 years.” Only 40 percent of women with only a high school degree or less are likely to stay married at least 20 years.

Men also benefit from the education-marriage pattern. The report says that about 65 percent of men with at least a bachelor’s degree could expect their first marriage to last 20 years or longer. Only 50 percent of men with a high school degree or less could expect such marriage longevity.

The link between a college education and marriage has been developing for the past 20 years, Pew research shows. In a 2010 report, the research center says that two decades ago adults without college degrees were more likely to be married than the college educated. In 1990, 75 percent of non-degree holders were married by age 30, compared to 69 percent of college educated adults. By 2008, the pattern had started to flip-flop. In that year, 62 percent of the college educated had married by age 30, compared to 60 percent of less educated adults of the same age.

“Among the possible explanations for this shift,” the report says, “are the declining economic fortunes of young men without a college degree and their increasing tendency to cohabit with a partner rather than marry.”

In the years between 1990 and 2008, the report says, inflation adjusted statistics show that college educated men between 25 and 34 earned a median increase of five percent in annual earnings, increasing from $52,330 to $55,000. The earnings of men of the same age group without a college education slipped 12 percent in that period, decreasing from $36,300 to $32,000.

In that same 18-year period, the report says census figures show a doubling of the number of unmarried, opposite sex partners living together. “About half of all cohabiters are under age 35, and more than 80 percent don’t have a college degree,” the report says.

Andrew Cherlin, a Johns Hopkins University sociologist, also discovered a link between cohabitation, marriage rates and college education while researching his book Labor’s Love Lost. He told the Huffington Post in 2014 that a steady decline in the inflation adjusted earnings of “working class” families in the past 50 years has been a factor in the decreasing number of married adults.

Young adults without the necessary education to obtain well-paid employment don’t feel financially stable enough to marry, Cherlin says in the article. The present-day societal acceptance of living together before marriage allows young people to cohabit instead of marrying. He says they often have children outside of marriage, later move on to other partners and develop weakened family structures. College educated cohabiting couples tend to marry before having children, he says.

Good mental health in midlife is also linked to a college education, researchers have found. A study conducted at the University of South Carolina and published in the American Journal of Mental Health in 2012 concluded that people who had obtained at least a bachelor’s degree by midlife experienced less depression and were more likely to report good health.

A college degree may not guarantee a long, happy and healthy life, but the odds are clearly balanced in its favor. 

 

 

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