In this new environment, marriage is transformed from a cornerstone to a capstone of adult identity. No longer the stabilizing base for the life one is building, it is now more of a crowning achievement. Ninety-one percent of young adults believe that they must be completely financially independent to be ready for marriage, and over 90 percent of them believe they should finish their education before taking the big step. Fifty-one percent also believe that their career should be underway first.
The passage given above is an excerpt from "Marriage Delayed: The Why", Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America—a new report sponsored by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the RELATE Institute, and The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

Educational Attainment

The highest level of education an individual completes—called ‘educational attainment’ by sociologists and other researchers—is correlated with a huge number of other life factors. Income is the most well-known and obvious one. People with college education make more money on an average than those with only a high school diploma or less. Many other important aspects of life are related to educational attainment and marriage is definitely one of them.

People with Degrees are More Likely to Get Married

A report published in 2011 by the Pew Research Center reveals that education is strongly correlated with whether or not people are married. Among people who have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, 64% were married in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). Among people who only have some college education—like people who took a few classes but never finished their degree, or people who are currently enrolled in college but haven’t yet graduated—48% are married. The number is 47% for those who have high school education or less.

Education and Marriage over Time

Correlation Between Education and Marriage

These numbers are pretty striking when you look at it this way: if you have a college degree, you are about 16% more likely to be married than someone who doesn’t have a degree. That’s not the most surprising part, though. What’s even more shocking is the fact that in 1960, people with college degrees were only about 4% more likely to be married than those with only high school education or less. Not a significant difference at all!

History of Marriage and Divorce Rates

Why has there been a change in the correlation between education and marriage? Before we can answer that question, let’s look at some background information on the history of marriage and divorce rates. Between 1960 and 1980, there was approximately a 300% increase in the divorce rate in the United States. The reason is largely cultural. Feminists helped make divorce more socially acceptable, and the divorce rate shot up. Since 1980, the rate of divorce has gone down a little bit, but so has the marriage rate. Fewer people are getting married, so fewer people are getting divorced.

Marriage Costs Money

So what does this have to do with education? One possible explanation has to do with the potential earning capacities of an individual that is determined by education. College graduates earn more money on an average than those without a degree, so some people think that they are more likely to be married because they have the money to get married and build stable family lives, making the occurrence of a future divorce owing to financial difficulties less likely. By itself, this doesn’t explain the change over time. However, when we realize that the difference in earnings between people with degrees and people without has gotten considerably bigger since the 1960s, it all seems to make sense.

Education and Earnings

These days, someone with a college degree can make around USD 1,000 per week, and someone with only a high school diploma earns an average of around USD 400 less. In 1979, the difference in earnings was just over USD 200. This shows that, in terms of increased earnings, college degrees are worth more now than they used to be. That might be why more people with higher degrees have an increased likelihood of getting married. Their less educated counterparts are less likely to be able to afford the expenses of starting and keeping a family today as compared to 50 years ago.

For those who see themselves getting married in the foreseeable future, these statistics show just how important being educated (and degreed) is in such a case. Financial security is one of the keys to a stable family life and without a college degree, the necessary income to maintain stability might just be difficult.