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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Still at odds : highly educated women and marriage Bennett, Diane


This research examines the relationship between higher education and eventual marriage in Canada using statistical, ethnographic and historical data. Data from the 1971, 1976 and 1981 Canadian census Public Use Sample Tapes are used to determine if the inverse relationship between higher education and eventual marriage for women in the United States is observed in the Canadian population. The data indicate a strong, negative relationship between higher education and eventual marriage for women in Canada. Although the relationship appears to be weakening, in 1981 20 percent of women, age 50-64 with a bachelor's degree and 27 percent with a graduate or professional degree never married compared to 5 percent of women with a high school education. For men in the same age group there was no difference in the percent who never married by educational level. Men with a high school education, bachelor's or graduate degree all had a nonmarriage rate of 8 percent. To account for this relationship for women, census data is also used to analyze mating preferences and sex ratios in Canada. With respect to education the preferences are in the predicted direction. Men tend to marry women with equal or less education and women tend to marry men with equal or greater education. This contributes to an unfavorable ratio of eligible males to highly educated females who have postponed marriage until their thirties. In addition, this research examines the relationship between education and marriage as it is perceived by the highly educated, unmarried woman. The data are from in-depth interviews with a sample of 15 never married women with professional and graduate degrees engaged in professional careers. The study profiles the career goals of these women and their expectations and perceptions about marriage. The women were not found to be antimarriage or antifamily. The major factor contributing to the women's postponement of marriage is the incompatibility of traditional marriage with career commitment, especially during the early stages of career development. The combination of both family life and participation in the labor force is difficult for women to manage, but add to that many years of post-secondary schooling, long hours of weekend work, geographic mobility and a competitive work environment and it is not difficult to understand that these women wait until their careers are established before trying to combine family life (as it is now structured) and career. Another important factor contributing to the women's postponement of marriage is their perception that most men have not changed their expectations of what men and women do for each other in a marital arrangement. They feel the majority of eligible males prefer a wife that will subordinate her own career development to the demands of family. For these women, the ideal marriage is one where both husband and wife have continuous and self-fulfilling extra-domestic career roles as well as meaningful and involving family roles. Finally, this research also provides a historical perspective on the relationship between education and marriage. Although higher education for women carried within it the potential for dramatic change in women's occupational as well as psychological states, a survey of one hundred years of college and domesticity in America shows that this dramatic shift did not occur. Unlike feminists involved in political struggle, the earliest women in higher education did not have clearly defined targets or goals. Even into the mid-twentieth century higher education for women insured a clinging to traditional values of domesticity, placed in a frame of professionalism, and hindered the ease with which college-educated women could choose life styles not sanctioned by domesticity. Where possible, data in this study are placed in a historic framework to emphasize that, while the barriers to combining family and career are falling, many problems remain for highly educated women.

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