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How Does College Impact Your Relationship Future?

by Maria Minsker | Cornell University

F Posted in: College P Posted on: February 14, 2012
Screen shot 2012-02-13 at 11.54.15 PM Image courtesy of Flickr, apdk

For many students, the college years are a time to learn to be an adult, discover a career path and for some, meet the person with whom they want to spend the rest of their lives. Finding the elusive “one” person that is marriage material is challenging, and according to a recent study conducted by Cornell University and the University of California, Los Angeles, attending college actually makes finding a partner more difficult for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

According to Cornell sociologist and study co-author Kelly Musick, “Men and women from the least advantaged backgrounds who attend college find themselves caught between social worlds.” They are reluctant to marry partners with less education but more similar financial situations, but also cannot establish relationships with partners that have the same type of education but are of a higher social status.

The findings shows that for disadvantaged students, or those who come from families with lower income and have parents with less education, the chance of getting married decreases by 38 percent for men and 22 percent for women if they attend college. Conversely, men and women of higher socio-economic statuses increase their chances of getting married by pursuing higher education—there is a 31 percent increase for men and an 8 percent increase for women.

While the study’s findings aren’t entirely surprising, it’s important to draw a distinction between finding a person to marry while in college and finding a person to marry in general. When discussing the study, Musick 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.” Whether or not this is true depends on the college, the person involved, and is entirely up for debate given that many social gatherings do not require any sort of financial commitment even at what Musick calls “elite universities like Cornell.”

However, assuming that her statement is true, it would make sense that it is challenging for disadvantaged students to find a mate in college. Even students that have jobs on campus cannot be expected to make a lot of money while juggling work with attending classes, and without financial support from home, college life can be a struggle. Perhaps they do not have the funds to take a girlfriend or boyfriend on a date, or they can’t afford to buy a suit to wear to formal events hosted by the Greek community. With these limitations in mind, the study confirms an obvious challenge.

Once the students graduate and begin their lives as independent adults, though, it seems odd to believe that they would have difficulty finding “the one.” If college is “the great equalizer” in the labor market, as Musick suggested, then why would it be jeopardizing someone’s chance of marriage? Sure, a college graduate may live at home for a few years and struggle to get on his feet, but once he has a steady job and a reliable income, marriage shouldn’t be a problem.

Disadvantaged students work incredibly hard during their years at college to break out of their socio-economic barriers and improve the quality of life for themselves and their families. Taking all of the emotional challenges of finding a partner out of the equation, if two people are making almost the same amount of money then why does it matter how each started out?

If a formerly disadvantaged student majored in accounting or finance and is now working as an executive at a bank, it won’t matter to a potential mate that this person was once struggling to make ends meet. If anything, it signifies that the person is extremely hard working, dedicated, and determined—all solid marriage material qualities.

While it might be true that socio-economic status makes a major difference for students while they are still in college and depend on their families, there is no reason why this distinction should follow them once they put their college education to use and land great job positions. It seems that this study perhaps surveyed former students before they were fully established in their careers or didn’t take into account that just because people aren’t getting married doesn’t mean they are not in happy, committed relationships. With a 50 percent divorce rate in the U.S. and celebrities like Kim Kardashian turning marriage into a complete joke, perhaps choosing to wait to get married or not get married at all is an indication of serious smarts.

Maria Minsker Maria Minsker Maria Minsker is a junior English and communication double major at Cornell University. She is an aspiring journalist who loves to travel, try foreign cuisines and watch reruns of old sitcoms.

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