Facing diminishing returns from their education and overall economic insecurity, women with college degrees are now six times more likely to give birth to their first child out of wedlock than their counterparts just 25 years ago, a new study from Johns Hopkins University shows.
Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin culled his findings in his study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science from demographic data from three major surveys: the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, and the National Survey of Family Growth.
He suggests that the cultural shift among college-educated women on motherhood is also driven by other factors such as societal acceptance of single parenthood and cohabiting couples.
"I project that among college-educated women currently in their 30s who will ever have a first child, 18% to 27% will be unmarried at the time of the birth," Cherlin said in a release from Johns Hopkins. "The place of marriage in the sequence of life events for emerging adulthood may be shifting among college graduates."
The study noted that in 1996, only 4% of college-educated women in their 30s had their first child out of wedlock. Some 20 years later, however, that share jumped to 24.5%.
"For a growing number of college-educated young adults in the U.S., their family life courses will eventually result in marriage but, for increasing numbers, marriage would follow a first birth rather than precede it," Cherlin noted. "This suggests a potential change in the role of marriage among college-educated emerging adults—although not necessarily a decline."
He further added: "Young adults may postpone or forgo marriage until and unless they have attained certain economic markers such as home ownership or an income comparable to the married couples around them."
And as college-educated women grapple with the diminishing returns from degrees, many men, some who have cited these diminishing returns, are now completely choosing to forgo college.
“If I was going to be a doctor or a lawyer, then obviously those people need a formal education. But there are definitely ways to get around it now,” Daniel Briles, 18, who graduated in June from Hastings High School in Hastings, Minnesota, told The Wall Street Journal in a recent report. “There are opportunities that weren’t taught in school that could be a lot more promising than getting a degree.”
Enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit research group, showed the number of men enrolled at two and four-year colleges has fallen to record levels, according to the Journal. At the end of the 2020-'21 academic year, women made up 59.5% of college students, an all-time high, and men 40.5%.
At UCLA, the proportion of male undergraduates fell to 41% in the fall semester of 2020 from 45% in fall 2013 even though undergraduate enrollment expanded by nearly 3,000 students over the period. Some nine out of 10 spots went to women, according to the report.
Even though fewer men apply, UCLA Vice Provost Youlonda Copeland-Morgan said: “We do not see male applicants being less competitive than female applicants.”
Over the course of their working lives, American college graduates reportedly earn more than a million dollars beyond those with only a high-school diploma. A university diploma is required for many jobs as well as most professions, technical work and positions of influence, the WSJ reports.