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Study: Marital trends and education

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In 2006, the majority of women with a university education were married to men who also had a university education. However, this tendency has decreased slightly over the last quarter-century. The pattern is similar for women in common-law unions.

In 2006, among married women aged 25 to 49 with a university degree, about 64% were married to men with the same level of education, down from 67% in 1981. About 48% of women who had a university degree and were living in a common-law relationship had a partner who had the same level of education.

In contrast, men with a university degree are increasingly likely to be married to, or be in a common-law union with, a woman who also has a university degree.

In 2006, 67% of married men with a university degree had a spouse with the same level of education, compared with 38% in 1981. One factor behind the increase in this proportion may be the rise in the number of female university graduates during this period.

For instance, women are now more likely to have a university degree than men. In 2006, for every 100 women aged 25 to 49 with a university degree, there were 84 men with the same level of education. The corresponding ratio in 1981 was 157 men for every 100 women.

Extended schooling among women affects the timing of life transitions, including family formation. Additionally, in the past, female university graduates were less likely to marry than women who did not have a university education. This is no longer the case. In 2006, 57% of women with a university degree were married, compared with 53% of women without a university degree. In 1981, the opposite was true: 65% of women with a university degree were married, compared with 76% of women who did not have a university degree.

Common-law unions have become more widespread. In 1981, 4% of women aged 25 to 49 were in a common-law union, while in 2006, 16% of women were in a common-law relationship. In 2006, 13% of women with a university degree were in a common-law relationship compared with 16% of women with lower levels of education.

Note: The study "Sharing their lives: women, marital trends and education" was based on data from the 1981 to 2006 censuses. The analysis focused on women aged 25 to 49, as most Canadian women have completed their education by the age of 25, and as the proportion of Canadian women in unions levels out at the age of 49. The focus was on marital status by highest level of education. Because the number of same-sex unions is small and there are no data on such unions for years prior to 2001, this study relates to opposite-sex unions only.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3901.

The article "Sharing their lives: women, marital trends and education" is now available in the September 2010 online issue of Canadian Social Trends, no. 90 (11-008-X, free), from the Key resource module of our website under Publications.

Also in this issue of Canadian Social Trends is the article: "Family, community, and Aboriginal language among young First Nations children living off reserve in Canada."

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (613-951-5979;, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.