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Fewer Singles among Highly Educated Women. A Gender Reversal of Hypergamy Across Cohorts in France

Milan Bouchet-Valat  By the same author

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Female hypergamy, defined as the propensity of individuals to form unions in which the woman is of lower status than the man, is a widely observed phenomenon. This article analyses first union formation in France using data from the 1999 family history survey (Étude de l’histoire familiale). In France, since the cohorts born in the late 1950s, couples where the woman is more educated than her partner are more frequent than the reverse. This trend is mainly attributable to the lengthening of female education – women are now more educated than men, even after controlling for changes in the educational distribution of the population (relative hypergamy) – and reflects a shift in individual preferences. Last, while the highest educated women in the pre-war birth cohorts were strongly disadvantaged on the marriage market, we observe that female permanent singlehood no longer increases with educational level. Conversely, permanent singlehood among low educated men has risen, reflecting the persistent negative effect of poor labour market outcomes on male union formation. These findings reveal a considerable weakening of the norm of female educational hypergamy, although the potential consequences of this change remain uncertain.

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