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Privately educated women four times more likely to marry privately educated men

5 April 2017

Women who went to private schools are four times more likely to marry a man who was privately educated than are state-educated women, new research from the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) shows.

The extent that privately-educated women prefer men from similar schools was revealed for the first time at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Manchester today (Wednesday 5 April).

Married couple, wedding day

Professor Francis Green, from the IOE, told the conference that “the idea that a private education might be a springboard, intended or not, for securing marriage to a high-earnings husband retains its place.”

Professor Green and Dr Golo Henseke, both from the IOE’s Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES), analysed survey data on 75,000 adults in the UK gathered from 1991-2013.

They found that among the women who had married, 20% of those who had been at private school and 5% of those who had been at state school had married privately-educated men.

Professor Green said that as a result of choosing men who had been to similar schools, privately-educated women were on average much more likely to be married to husbands in high-earning prestigious careers.

He said that the privately-educated husbands of privately-educated women earned an average of £35,900 a year, compared with the £25,900 earned by state-educated husbands of state-educated women.

The researchers suggested that one reason why ‘like married like’ was that men and women from private schools were more likely to have friends in common, work in similar careers and hold shared values.

But this only explained part of the reason privately-educated women married well-off husbands. Irrespective of their social background, they were also more likely to go to university and then marry a more highly-educated husband.  

Professor Green said: “Women who attended private schools were more likely to match themselves with men who were considerably more successful in the labour market than were state-school educated women.

“These findings reinforce concerns over the link between private schooling and low social mobility, because economic and social advantages within the family are retained by marriage among the privately educated. A marriage return from private education arises in the form of a higher-earning husband.”

He added that privately-educated women’s husbands were “significantly more likely to be situated in the 90% earnings decile, more likely to work in high status, managerial or professional occupations, and less likely to earn incomes below the median.

“The private school sector in Britain largely serves the increasingly affluent professional and managerial classes. It is, with few exceptions, the elite sector of schooling.”

Professor Green believes that this is the first research to chart the preferences of privately educated women: “We are not aware of previous studies which may have looked for any return to private schooling via marriage in the modern era.”

Seven per cent of the UK population is privately-educated.

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