There’s a cliche, which isn’t totally false, that more education tends to lead one toward heterodox viewpoints which challenge conventional norms. But one issue that has been coming to the fore over the last 10 years or so is that college educated Americans tend toward social liberalism, and yet often continue to live very bourgeois lives. In other words, the freedoms which they favor are those freedoms which are ever operative in their own lives. In contrast those Americans without college educations tend to have a less libertarian attitude toward personal mores, but have lives characterized by greater disturbance and disastrous choices.
And yet this does not hold in the case of what articles such as this report, How Divorce Lost Its Groove:
Though she wasn’t entirely surprised. Ever since her divorce three years ago, Ms. Thomas said, she has been antisocial, “nervous about what people would say.”
After all, she had gone from Park Slope matron, complete with involved husband (“We had cracked the code of Gen X peer parenthood”) and gut-renovated brownstone, to “a Red Hook divorcée,” she said, remarried with a new baby and two children-of-divorce barely out of preschool. “All of a sudden, this community I’d lived in for 13 years became this spare and mean savannah,” she said.
It was as if, she said, everyone she knew felt bad for her but no one wanted to be near her, either. Even though adultery was not part of the equation, Ms. Thomas said, “I feel like I have a giant letter A on my front and back.
The article goes on to detail how exactly marriage is working for the upper middle class, and it is not working for the lower and lower middle class. But there isn’t much more than anecdote for social attitudes, as opposed to actions (which may have material bases). So I decided to look at the General Social Survey. I looked at the variable DIVLAW over the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s. Then I limited the sample to whites, and divided them between those with college degrees, and those without. To my surprise the “trend story” seems about right in broad strokes:
|Non-college educated||Make divorce easier||25||23||24||24|
|Keep the law the same||22||19||19||22|
|Make divorce more difficult||53||59||57||54|
|College educated||Make divorce easier||38||21||19||17|
|Keep the law the same||25||30||29||34|
|Make divorce more difficult||37||50||51||49|
Mind you, this does not lend itself to an interpretation that college educated want to take divorce laws and norms back to the 1950s. Rather, there seems a genuine strand of sentiment that the liberties of the 1970s went too far. This is an important finding because in general the more well educated are more socially liberal in attitudes on a given issue. And, quite often that liberalism waxes over time. Here you have a case where that is not so. Why? I have to offer that perhaps that is because divorce is not simply a matter of the individual. It effects the social fabric, and in particular children.