Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Educational Homogamy of Married and Unmarried Couples in English and French Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Educational Homogamy of Married and Unmarried Couples in English and French Canada

Article excerpt

The question "who marries whom" is an important factor in documenting the existence of social barriers as well as explaining income inequalities and their intergenerational transmission. Marriage indicates the presence of formal ties between individuals, families, and social groups; the composition of current marriages determines the amount of economic, cultural, or social resources that are available to existing households. In this respect, assortative mating patterns partly determine the family environment in which children are raised, contributing to the life opportunities opened to the next generation (for more see Esping-Andersen 2007; Mare 2000, 1991; Blossfeld and Timm 2003; Kalmijn 1998; Kalmijn 1991a; Smits, Ultee, and Lammers 1998, 1999). Although many dimensions of assortative mating can be studied, we focus on selection with respect to education, as schooling is a major determinant of occupational success and cultural capital in modern societies.

Past research on educational homogamy in North America has produced mixed results, which partly reflects differences in the populations targeted and methodologies chosen (Hou and Myles 2007). Despite this diversity, there is evidence that the levels of educational homogamy have been rising in this region for several decades (Qian and Preston 1993; Hou and Myles 2007; Schwartz and Mare 2005; Mare 1991; Kalmijn 1991a; Qian 1998; Smits, Ultee, and Lammers 1998). This trend is observable not only for the absolute number of educationally homogamous marriages but also for relative measures of homogamy that control for the educational composition of the society. Increasing educational homogamy cannot, therefore, be explained solely by educational expansion; it also indicates that increasingly selective forces of attraction are at work.

It should be noted that the rising levels of educational homogamy observed among spouses and the trend towards stricter marital selection are accompanied by declining marriage rates and the increasing popularity of nonmarital cohabitation. Hence, while spouses are becoming more alike in terms of socioeconomic characteristics, a declining fraction of men and women are marrying and cohabitation is replacing marriage, at least among certain age and social groups. In spite of this development, we know relatively little about the assortative mating patterns eduCational homogamy of married and unmarried CoupleS 847 of unmarried couples and the extent to which they differ from those of married couples. Studies examining the degree of educational homogamy among cohabiting couples are rare and focus mostly on the United States. Although one of the most recent studies of educational homogamy in Canada (Hou and Myles 2007) includes cohabiting couples, it does not directly compare married and unmarried unions.

This paper goes beyond prior studies conducted in North America and focuses on Canada rather than on the United States. Moreover, it contrasts Canadian regions that represent different cultural contexts and display radically different demographic behaviour, especially with respect to cohabitation. More precisely, we focus on the difference between the predominantly Francophone province of Quebec and the Anglophone provinces. In the first part of the paper, we briefly summarize main results from previous research. In the next section, we review existing theories about differences in assortative mating patterns among married and cohabiting couples; we discuss their relevance for the Canadian context and formulate specific hypotheses relevant to marital and nonmarital selection in the two observed settings. In the third part, we analyze educational homogamy by applying log-linear models to the 2001 Canadian Census data.


So far, the studies of educational homogamy in cohabitation (mainly from the United States) have produced mixed results. …

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