Fewer men have wives less educated than them as expectations change

The majority of marriages involve couples with similar educational levels. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: UNSPLASH

SINGAPORE - The traditional norm of men marrying a wife who is less educated than them and women looking for a better-educated husband is changing.

The proportion of men with wives who have less education than them fell from 16.3 per cent of marriages in 2011 to 12.3 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, the share of marriages involving a woman who is better educated than her husband increased from 17.5 per cent of all marriages in 2011 to 18.2 per cent last year.

The data was contained in the Statistics on Marriages and Divorces 2021 and published by the Department of Statistics (DOS). It was released on Wednesday (July 6).

However, the majority of marriages involve couples with similar educational levels. Some 69.5 per cent of couples who wed last year fell into this category, up from 66.2 per cent in 2011.

The increase in such couples is due to the higher share of civil marriages where both partners are university graduates and Muslim marriages where both husband and wife have post-secondary or university qualifications, the DOS said.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser described the trend of fewer men marrying less-educated wives and vice-versa for the women as socially significant.

But he noted that educational qualifications may not necessarily be a good indicator of income and that income is still a key concern while selecting partners.

Ms Shailey Hingorani, head of research and advocacy at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), noted that traditional gender roles dictate that higher education increases one's job prospects, making the man more attractive as a husband who can fulfil the breadwinner role, while it decreases the chances of a woman staying home and depending on her husband to provide for the family.

But there are now more female tertiary graduates, compared to men, and this has led to more men marrying someone with similar educational levels and fewer men with a less educated wife, said Dr Tan Poh Lin, an assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS.

Fei Yue Community Services social worker Marie Yeo said as more women are highly educated these days, they are financially independent and may not have qualms about marrying a less educated man.

She has also seen a shift in expectations of the roles and responsibilities between the couple, adding: "Women today value and expect men's equal contribution at home, and we are glad to see more men willing to take up their share of domestic responsibilities such as household chores, marketing and caregiving, while women also work and contribute financially to the home."

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