Friday, January 06, 2006

a marriage of equals

John Tierney's Tuesday column (NYT Select, so no link) was titled "male pride and female prejudice." In this column he presents some results from the National Survey of Families and Households and various other sources on the marriage preferences of men and women, then makes a wild leap to claim that our educational system is discriminating against boys. I'm going to excerpt part of his editorial (the block quotes) and then provide my own comments.
"Women, who were a minority on campuses a quarter century ago, today make up 57% of more women, especially black and Hispanic women, will be in a position to get better-paying, more prestigious jobs than their husbands..."
OK, I've seen those statistics before. More women are getting degrees (although the most lucrative degrees, engineering and business ones, are still dominated by men) and a college degree increases your lifetime earnings potential.
"The women surveyed were less willing to marry down -- marry someone with much lower earnings or less education -- than the men were to marry up....A woman who's an executive can afford to marry a struggling musician. But that doesn't neccessarily mean she wants to....women with higher incomes, far from relaxing their standards, put more emphasis on a mate's financial resources."
So a well-educated, highly paid woman doesn't tend to want to marry an unemployed man? But a low-earning man would be quite happy to marry a sugar mama? What a surprise!
"And once they're married, women with higher incomes seem less tolerant of their husband's short comings...marriages in which the husband and wife earn roughly the same are more likely to fail than other marriages. The situation doesn't affect the husband's commitment to the marriage, [the researcher] concludes, but it weakens the wife's and makes her more likely to initiate divorce."
Note that roughly equal earnings are not what Tierney has been discussing up until now, and, in fact, "other marriages" can thus be construed to include those where the woman earns much more than a man. But Tierney didn't want us to think about this. Also note that the researcher's conclusion is not supported by the previous sentence, maybe he had some support but Tierney doesn't give it to us. Instead he expects us to believe his interpretation of the researcher's conclusions.
"Which means, on average, college-educated women and high-school-educated men will have a harder time finding partners as long as educators keep ignoring the gender gap that starts long before college. Advocates for women have been so effective politically that high schools and colleges are still focusing on supposed discrimination against women: the shortage of women in science classes and sports teams rather than the shortage of men, period. You could think of this as a victory for women's rights, but many of the victors will end up celebrating alone."

Whoa, Nelly! This is the last paragraph of the editorial; nowhere prior to this paragraph does Tierney mention anything about education. He just takes this wild leap from women's marriage preferences to discrimination against men. And his case is so weak it is laughable. Let's contemplate some other statistics:
"Women make 80¢ on the male dollar, even accounting for time off to raise kids. If that factor is not accounted for, women make 56¢.

Over her career, the average working woman loses $1.2 million to wage inequity.

Since 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was signed, the wage gap has closed by less than half a cent per year."

So if women have been so effective politically than where's the payout in economic terms? I could go on and on, but I don't need to the Mother Jones article linked above has done it for me. Women are still far behind men in terms of professional opportunities and equal pay for equal work.

OK, having dismissed Tierney's male-discrimination argument as a joke, let's contemplate why well-educated professional women might want to marry men who are their equivalents. We could think about the value of having a partner who is your intellectual equal so that you can have real conversations about important topics, or a partner who shares some of your interests and aspirations personal and professional, or a partner who can empathize with your day-to-day life because he's living it too. Those seem like sufficient explanations to me, but there's more.

Women, even professional women, still do more than half of the work of raising children and running a household. Mother Jones reports that" 40% of married professional women feel their husbands do less work around the house than they create" and "each teenage girl increases a mom’s weekly housework by 1.5 hours, but leaves a dad’s unchanged. A teenage boy adds 3 hours to mom’s chores, and an hour to dad’s." So a woman who wants to get married knows she will likely end up managing a career, a family, and a house. Why shouldn't she want a man who can help out financially (maybe hire a weekly house cleaner or a nanny?) or one who maybe took a women's studies class on the way to his college degree?

It seems like a more appropriate closing paragraph to the editorial might have said something like this: "College-educated, professional women are justifiably choosy when it comes to picking life partners. They want someone who can be their equal intellectually and professionally. Men who want to marry a smart, economically-attractive woman should get their acts together."


Writer Chica said...

Your conclusion makes lots more sense. I think it would be a rare high school male graduate who would choose to stay home with the kids and take care of the housework while his wife made the money, whereas this seems acceptable for a high school female graduate.

Dr J. said...

I also think that this writer is pulling what he wants out of the data rather than what´s there. But actually, I´m not so sure one can say that highly educated woman WANT highly educated men necessarily, rather that it is almost impossible for a relationship to survive if the man is less educated. At least if my experiences are anything to go by, men cannot deal with a woman who is their "intellectual superior". That will certainly skew results: the choice is not necessarily by the woman, but perhaps by the man.

Doctor Free-Ride, Ph.D. said...

In agreement with your criticism of the editorial and your take on the situation. It would be interesting to see some plausible hypotheses, though, on why the relative proportion of men in college classrooms has fallen. (Maybe, given the wage gap, a college degree is less essential for a man? Or could this just be a symptom of the growing anti-intellectual mood in certain segments of the population?)

ScienceWoman said...

Dr Free-ride: I've been wondering about the same thing. IMHO the value of a college degree has been diluted by encouraging everyone to go to college, leading to poorer quality students in the college classroom and then poorer quality graduates with a BA on the job market. Maybe the boys have figured out that they can earn just as much with a skill from trade school (or maybe they are enlisting?). Do you have any ideas?

Anonymous said...

WOW. I gotta get this article. it (in combination with your comments & wonderful alternative conclusion) totally summarizes many of my recent feelings.

I may be an educated, liberated, '90's woman (can i still use that phrase?), but I still really want a husband who earns more than me. I wish it weren't true..but I can't help the way I feel.

If he earned more, it would give a much greater sense of financial security. Its harder to plan for babies when the mother is also the bread winner.

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Oscar said...

uneducated lazy idiot and inteligent weltthy sugar mama does not go well together and therefore rarelly happens