Lynn Dorman kept hearing that she deserved better than Dave.
Sure, she told herself, he was cute and manly — a Mummer, a bouncer, and a carpenter from Bridesburg. But Lynn, originally a working-class girl from Fox Chase, was a Temple University-educated nurse, on her way to a master’s degree.
“He’s not good enough for you because he’s a high school grad, and you’re in a different class now,” Lynn, 36, remembers people saying. Even her mother asked, “Can’t you meet a nice doctor?”
But love is love, potent and undeniable.
Now Lynn and Dave Dorman, 34, who got married 10 years ago and live in Fox Chase with their three kids, are emblematic of a growing American phenomenon: More women with college degrees are marrying men without them. It’s called “marrying down.”
It had to happen, social scientists say.
Beginning in 1979, women started to outnumber men in U.S. colleges, attaining nearly 60 percent of total enrollment by 2017, federal education figures show. High school girls have been outperforming boys for years, sociologists say. And the social barriers that kept young women’s mothers and grandmothers out of college have fallen away.
Education Gender Gap
Nationwide, about 36 percent of women aged 25 to 34 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with around 28 percent of similarly aged men, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
In the Philadelphia area, the advanced-degree ratio is 46 percent to 37 percent, women to men, federal figures show.
With “the supply of young women with B.A.’s outstripping the supply of young men with B.A.’s, women who want to marry men of similar ages are necessarily going to consider men with less education than themselves,” said Michael Rosenfeld, a Stanford University sociologist.
The slow but steady trend of degreed women marrying down started in the mid-1990s, but “scholars simply weren’t paying attention” until recently, said Christine Schwartz, a University of Wisconsin demographer and sociologist.
The Dormans, of course, have been aware of the reality for years.
At first, the education gap between Dave and his wife didn’t bother him.
“But now,” Dave said, “my oldest child is 10, and when he gets homework, I’m like, ‘Ask mom.’ I have no idea.’ ”
This can stress Lynn: “We have tiffs on homework. There’s stuff he saves for me after 12-hour days, like explaining the water cycle. It’s annoying.”
And sometimes, Dave said, he believes life would be easier if he’d gotten a degree that led to a higher-paying job. “When we get into an argument,” he said, “it’s mainly along the lines of she’d love to stay home and take care of the kids.”
Once, Lynn told Dave, “If you could have just gone to school, we wouldn’t have to shop for food on our credit card.” But, she said, “I apologized. He provides for his family.”
In 2016, there were 39 million married American couples aged 18 to 54, according to Philip Cohen, University of Maryland sociologist. The wife married down in 14 percent of the marriages, the husband in 10 percent.
That ratio has flipped since 1970, Cohen added, when 10 percent of husbands and 3 percent of wives married down.
Until the 1980s, if a woman had more education than her husband, the risk of divorce increased, said Stephanie Coontz, a marriage historian at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. Today, that’s no longer true.
In fact, she said, the more earning power a woman has relative to her husband, the more housework he does. And such domestic equality is a “huge predictor of marital satisfaction,” Coontz said.
Education Gender Gap in Local Counties
Marriage equality are the watchwords for Jim and Rose Mary Dollard of Lansdale, married 29 years with two children.
Jim, 58, who doesn’t have a college degree, is safety coordinator for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98.
Rose Mary, 54, works in regulatory compliance at Johnson & Johnson. The couple met when Jim was on a construction site at Temple, where Rose Mary earned a chemistry degree.
“It was never a point of contention when I started to make more money than Jim,” Rose Mary said.
“I never felt jealous of her,” Jim added.
Their compatibility stems from equally ferocious work ethics, Rosemary said: “Marry somebody who’s like you in your drive, not in what you do for a living.”
That sounds right to newlywed Gina Auddino, 25, a hospital marketing coordinator. Being more educated than your husband is not unusual in her South Philadelphia family, in which “every woman has more education than her spouse,” said Gina, who married A.J., 27, in September.
Men with degrees are too competitive with their educated wives, she said, adding that “a little bit of pretension sometimes comes with education. It’s a turnoff.”
A.J., seafood manager at a South Philadelphia supermarket, said he and Gina see life similarly, and that keeps them together.
Eventually, Jocelyn Wright might follow Gina’s lead.
Unmarried and 47, the West Oak Lane certified financial planner with a Howard University M.B.A. would marry a man without a degree if he “had an entrepreneurial spirit.”
She added: “There’s a man gap in the African American world. The numbers are stacked against a woman looking for an educated black man.”
Actually, while more black women than black men aged 25 to 34 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to 2016 Census statistics, the nearly four-percentage-point difference (26.5 to 22.6) is half the size of the figure for all of the United States, said Temple sociologist Judith Levine.
What’s different is that black women have always been more likely to get a college degree than black men, as far back as the 1940s, Levine said. Racism and high incarceration rates are among the reasons, she said.
“Whether a man has a degree is not one of my first questions,” Wright said. “At this point, life-education outweighs a degree.”