More break-ups among poorly educated couples

Experts cite money woes and lack of interpersonal skills

WHEN Fatimah (not her real name) went back to school to get a diploma and degree, little did she expect that the move would eventually lead to her marriage breaking down.

"As I upgraded myself, my perspectives and horizons shifted and my husband and I could no longer see eye to eye on important issues," said the 49-year- old regional administrator at a consulting firm.

For instance, he preferred their three children to work to supplement the household income once they were done with secondary school. She, however, wanted them to go on to tertiary education.

"Our thinking drifted farther and farther apart, and we chose to split when money and other issues came in," said Fatimah, who started out as a secretary with secondary school qualifications.

Today, the divorcee has a monthly pay of $6,500 - thrice that of her husband, a technician whose highest qualification is secondary school.

A Ministry of Social and Family Development report released two weeks ago showed that break-ups are more common if either spouse is among the lower-educated. It studied marriage cohorts from 1987 to 2012.

Among those who wed in 1998, for instance, 26.4 per cent of males and 25.3 per cent of females with below secondary school qualification annulled their union or divorced before their 15th anniversary. This is about twice that of those with university education.

Marital counsellors and divorce lawyers said that the less educated may have lower marital satisfaction because of greater economic pressures and poorer communication and interpersonal skills.

Said Ms Mabel Tan, senior partner at Joseph Tan Jude Benny LLP: "Those with lower qualifications usually quarrel over money but for the more educated ones, it tends to be over a third party or lack of time spent at home when they travel for work frequently." She cited a pending divorce between her client, a warehouse sales assistant and her technician husband, who both have secondary school qualifications. This was his third marriage and he was already supporting four children from his previous two marriages on his $2,400 salary.

"This is his third divorce, yet he has failed to see the same old issues cropping up again and again, from financial issues to his unreasonable attitude towards his spouses," said Ms Tan.

Ms Theresa Bung, principal therapist at the non-profit Family Life Society, said that such couples could be hard at work making ends meet and hence lack the time and energy to brush up on skills required for a strong marriage.

"They are less likely to attend talks or workshops if they are lowly educated and trying to survive on low pay," she said.

Family lawyer Lee Terk Yang said another reason could be that graduates are more selective, compared with non-graduates.

"The graduates may be more choosy and fussy about a partner and so when they do get married, those unions may last longer."

Counsellors said those with lower qualifications should attend marriage preparation or enrichment courses.

Ms Tan said: "They may need more hand-holding to walk through the scenarios that can crop up during marriage so that they do not simply react negatively when a crisis comes along."

Agreeing, Mr Lee said: "More premarital work will help them think through whether they are ready for the challenges of marriage."

jantai@sph.com.sg