It is well established that returns on education are higher for women than for men in urban China. We argue that this finding, while accurate, is misleading owing to its individualist perspective. The income to which most working-age women and men have access includes not only their own income, but also spouse income. Furthermore, decisions about participation and investment in the labour force, both consequential for income trajectories, are likely to be made with partner income and potential income in mind. To our knowledge, no research in China has explored the returns to education enjoyed via spouse income, or the implications of pooling couple income, for illuminating the returns to schooling difference for women and men. In this article, using data from the China Urban Labour Survey (2001), we argue that the returns for women, conventionally defined, are higher than for men because many women trade their own income for spouse income, and this is particularly true among less educated women. We demonstrate, first, that women who are more educated are less likely to get married, while the reverse is true for men. Second, we show that among couples there is evidence of a trade-off in investments in careers. Moreover, among couples, the less educated the woman and the more educated the man, the less likely the couple is to depend heavily on her income. Finally, we show that among couples there is a compensating reverse pattern of returns differences by sex when income is conceptualized as spouse income. Thus, in terms of total couple income, there are no returns differences by sex.