Real Men Marry Rich Women

The First Post, October 23, 2007
By Stephanie Coontz

T he US census has just reported that in at least five major American cities, the majority of women in their twenties now earn more than men of the same age group. You might think people would have seen this coming. In most of Western Europe and North America, females have been a majority of university students for the past 10 years. In the United States, they now comprise almost half the students in traditionally male fields such as law, business, and medicine.

But the news that women in their twenties are out-earning their male peers has generated hundreds of news reports and blogs in both the US and Britain. Many people warn that this change will have dire consequences for the romantic lives and marriage prospects of women. Young women describe relationships that sour when the boyfriend discovers that she earns more.

They report hiding their earnings and downplaying professional degrees on dates.

It's no wonder women worry. For more than 150 years, we've been told to play dumb and seem dependent if we want to catch a man. Prior to the mid-19th century, this was not an issue. Men and women worked together on farms and in family businesses, and women's activities sometimes accounted for the bulk of family subsistence. But men were OK with that because male authority was enforced by law and religion.

As institutionalised male dominance eroded, the rise of wage labour gave men a new source of masculine pride: now they were the family breadwinners. Immediately, experts began to advise women that if they challenged this masculine role, they would destroy their chance of finding marital bliss.

In 1905, a prominent Canadian doctor, whose advice books were published throughout the English-speaking world, explained that women who were successful at work acquired a "self-assertive, independent character, which renders it impossible to love, honour, and obey." A little more than one hundred years later, in August 2006, a column advised men: "Don't marry a woman with a career" because she won't look up to you. Economist Sylvia Hewlett warns that "the more successful the woman, the less likely it is she will find a husband or bear a child."

But these claims ignore the massive changes in men's attitudes as well as women's roles. Sure, every woman has dated some jerk who is threatened by her accomplishments. But instead of pandering to his insecurities, she should run like mad in the opposite direction. This is the kind of man who often ends up marrying a mail-order bride from the Philippines or Russia, provided by a match-making service that boasts that its women are "not the type who will talk back".

Most men today tell pollsters that they would be happy to date or marry a woman with higher earnings or education than themselves. And that is actually happening. In a dramatic reversal of trends prior to 1980, women with college degrees and high earnings are now more likely to marry than women with less education and lower earnings, although they usually do so at an older age. When there is a difference in educational attainment between husband and wife, it is now more often in the female's favour.

Researchers Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett report that 42 per cent of college-educated married women who work now out-earn their partners, and their marriages are just as stable as those in which the husband makes more than his wife. In fact, Barnett found that as the wife worked more, the husband's marital quality of life actually improved!

Reams of studies show that today, unlike in the past, egalitarian values and flexibility about gender roles are huge predictors of marital quality. Men with traditional values about male breadwinning are now more likely to divorce than their open-minded peers. Only a wimp needs to earn more than his wife to feel like a man.

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