Why do lower educated people separate more often? Life strains and the gradient in union dissolution

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This study finds that lower educated couples are more likely to separate than their better educated peers, because they experience strain across multiple aspects of their life, including work, finance, social relationships, health and housing.

The research shows that lower educated couples are not in themselves more likely to separate, but rather face a range of external pressures and strains. They are also more likely to have a partner facing multiple strains. This puts stress on the relationship be-tween the partners, thus strongly increasing the risk of separation.

These findings were based on longitudinal survey data of more than 8000 couples living in Australia who were followed for six years. They add to previous research, which mainly looked at economic hardship, by showing that strains in other aspects of life also play an important role for maintaining romantic relationships.

Easing life strains could result in fewer separations and divorces, thereby reducing inequalities between less and better educated individuals. Over the longer term, this could prevent the accumulation of disadvantage among these families and their children.

The researchers conclude that policy makers should focus on the creation of better education opportunities, full access to social services, and financial certainty. This would ease tensions between partners and would provide people with the independence that prevents them from rushing into a relationship.