Cornell University sociologist Kelly Musick says men and women from the least advantaged backgrounds who attend college can end up stranded between social worlds, reluctant to "marry down" to partners with less education and unable to "marry up" to those from more privileged upbringings, a university release reported Tuesday.
The findings suggest social and cultural factors may outweigh income as factors in marriage decisions, she says.
Musick calls this phenomenon of social origins versus educational attainment "marriage market mismatch."
"College students are becoming more diverse in their social backgrounds, but they nonetheless remain a socio-economically select group," she said. "It may be difficult for students from less privileged backgrounds to navigate social relationships on campus, and these difficulties may affect what students ultimately gain from the college experience."
College attendance negatively affected marriage chances for the least advantaged individuals, lessening men's and women's odds by 38 percent and 22 percent respectively, while among those in the highest social stratum men who attend college increase their marrying chances by 31 percent and women by 8 percent.
"This research demonstrates the importance of differentiating between social background and educational achievement," Musick said. "Educational achievement may go far in reducing income differences between men and women from different social backgrounds, but social and cultural distinctions may persist in social and family relationships."