The Effect of Education on Divorce Risk in Estonia

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The trends in the rates of marriage dissolution have been a frequent topic of public discussion in Estonia since it regained independence in 1991. The number of divorces in Estonia was increasing until 1995, when (partly due to the new family law act passed in that year) the number of divorces per 100 marriages peaked at 106.4 (and the crude divorce rate reached 5.2). After that the crude divorce rate fell and has remained relatively stable since 2000 at about 3 until 2005 (Figure 1). This is still higher than in most other European countries. Estonia could be an interesting case for international comparison, as it is one of the least religious and least traditional countries in Europe in terms of family relations and forms (Kasearu 2008). This may have made divorce risk factors in Estonia different from those in other countries.

The aim of this analysis is to consider the impact of education on divorce risk in Estonia. To my knowledge, there are no recent studies of socio-demographic divorce risk factors in Estonia. The current article fills this gap. The data used for this purpose come from the longitudinal survey "Paths of a Generation" (Titma and Tuma 1995). This study follows the life course of an educational cohort that graduated from the secondary school in 1983. The cohort is interesting because they started their independent life in the Soviet Union (before 1991) and experienced the regime change and the transition period as young adults.

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2. Education as a divorce risk factor

There is no general agreement among researchers on the impact of education on the risk of divorce. The economic theory of the family predicts that the educational level of the wife should increase the risk of divorce (Becker et al. 1977). Better education gives women more economic opportunities outside the marriage and therefore makes the decision to leave the union easier. But as most of the married women in the Soviet Union participated in the labor force and did not stay at home until their children grew up, this explanation may not work in these circumstances. Therefore no strong impact of educational level of women on divorce risk should be anticipated in Estonia according to this explanation.

An important aspect of education is the potential to earn more in occupations that require higher education. This implies that people with higher education have more resources to handle divorce costs and therefore decide to divorce more easily.

On the other hand, researchers have argued that higher education may lower the divorce risk. The higher education of partners could mean that as they earn more, the family experiences less economic problems and this factor also should lower the divorce risk (Jalovaara 2003, Ono 1998, Oppenheimer 1997). But the high income of the wife may also increase the divorce risk, especially when the income of the wife is higher than the income of the husband (Jalovaara 2003).

While the family income explanation of the impact of education on divorce has been tested several times in different studies, other perspectives have received less attention in the sociological study of divorce. For example, it has been stated that partners with higher educational levels could have better communication skills and therefore be able to solve conflicts in the family more easily (Amato 1996, Faust and McKibben 1999).

Another argument for the higher divorce risk of persons with higher education is that they hold more liberal values concerning divorce and accordingly may more easily decide to end an unsatisfactory union (Levinger 1979).

2.1. Studies of educational impact on divorce

The empirical evidence on the impact of education on divorce is mixed. The analysis of the data from the Fertility and Family Surveys by Harkonen and Dronkers (2006) did not find a relationship between education and divorce in most countries of Eastern and Northern Europe, including Estonia. …