October 7, 2010

The Reversal of the College Marriage Gap

V. Education and the Economic Benefits of Marriage

This report began with the observation that among adults in their 30s, the college-educated are now more likely to have married than the less educated. There are many motivations for marriage, and a full explanation for the changing patterns of marriage by education is beyond the scope of this report. However, solely from an economic standpoint, marriage brings clear benefits. Married adults have higher incomes than do unmarried adults-and this gap has widened over the past four decades, both among the college-educated and those without a college degree.

Table 4 presents median adjusted household income for adults by marital status. “Adjusted” household income refers to an adult’s household income adjusted for the size of the household. (Household members share the economic resources of the household and a given household income goes further in a smaller household.11)

The table shows that median adjusted household income of married adults exceeds that of unmarried adults. For example, in 2008 the typical married adult had an adjusted household income of $76,652 versus $54,470 for the typical unmarried adult. The table also shows that the economic gains associated with marriage are similar for both lesser-educated adults and the college-educated. The typical married adult lacking a college degree has an adjusted household income of $64,504, a 34% advantage over an unmarried adult lacking a college degree. The typical married adult with a college degree has a household income of $112,076, a 26% advantage over the typical unmarried adult with a college degree.12

  1. See the appendix for further details on the calculation of “adjusted household income.”
  2. Because Table 4 refers to all adults ages 20 and over, perhaps it is not representative of the outcomes of young adults. Fry and Cohn (2010) present household income figures for 30- to 44-year-olds, and the lesser-educated get an economic boost associated with marriage on par with that of the college-educated.