Married college graduates make more money, says Pew report

By Michelle Singletary
Thursday, January 21, 2010

If you want a better chance of creating household wealth, earn a college degree -- and get married.

"Americans who already have the largest incomes and who have had the largest gains in earnings since 1970 -- college graduates -- have fortified their financial advantage over less-educated Americans because of their greater tendency to be married," wrote the authors of a Pew Research Center report that examined economic gains over the past four decades among U.S.-born men and women ages 30 to 44.

The big news about this report has centered on the fact that there's been a shift in gender roles. A larger share of men in 2007, compared with their 1970 counterparts, were married to women whose educations and incomes exceeded their own.

But there are some other very interesting statistics in the Pew report.

It found that having a working spouse often makes you better off financially. Before you single folk get your britches in a bunch, that's not to say you can't also achieve financial prosperity.

"There are plenty of single people doing great, and who can do well on their own and want to do well on their own," said D'Vera Cohn, co-author of the report.

Yet overall, married adults have made greater income gains over the past four decades than have unmarried adults. From 1970 to 2007, their median adjusted household incomes, the sum of financial contributions of all members of the household, rose more than those of the unmarried.

(You should know that all income trends in the Pew report are based on data that have been adjusted for inflation. Additionally, incomes were adjusted for household size and then scaled to reflect a three-person household.)

In adjusted numbers, unmarried men earned $56,951 annually on average in 1970, increasing to $65,849 in 2007. Unmarried women in 2007 earned $30,597, increasing to $48,738 in 2007.

Now let's compare that with married men and women. Married men earned $45,785 in 1970. Nearly four decades later, their income rose to an average $73,774. For married women, average income went from $46,669 to $74,642.

The report also verified what some marketers have long assumed: that high-earning women exercise more economic authority within the marriage over major purchases and household finances.

In another Pew survey conducted in 2008, couples were asked: "When you and your spouse make decisions about managing the household finances, who has the final say?"

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