There's been a fair amount of scuttlebutt on the blogs lately about conservative author Kay Hymowitz, who has a new book called Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys. She contends that as women graduate from college--they make up 57% of this year's crop of graduates--it will damage their marital prospects, as women are not willing to "marry down" on the educational ladder. Monica Potts, covering a speech Ms Hymowitz gave in March, reckons that Ms Hymowitz is blaming women for their bad luck with men: "Feminism, she says, has created a perpetual child-man unable to grow up, leaving scores of women partner-less." Amanda Marcotte argues that the pressure on women to marry is a manifestation of sexism. 

I would offer two responses to the socially conservative line as articulated by Ms Hymowitz. The first is that we can't interpret the number of unmarried women as the number of women who can't manage to lock down a husband, any husband, as The Other McCain seems to think. That is no doubt the case for some, and I have witnessed some women being strung along as he describes, or who feel compelled to act more casual about the future of their relationships than they really are. But I suspect that for many unmarried women the situation is that they aren't as motivated to pursue marriage as their mothers and grandmothers might have been. That could be attributed to many factors. Perhaps the current generation of young women observed the drawbacks of the institution during their upbringing, and certainly the social stigma of being unmarried has lessened. But one of the factors is surely that increased education and access to employment brings women increased financial security and autonomy. Financial security has historically been a major incentive for women to marry, and not an entirely unreasonable one, I would add. But as women can now achieve financial security on their own, and in perpetuity, that incentive for partnership has abated. 

As to the question of whether men don't make passes at girls with glasses, I would say that my personal experience corroborates the argument that most men aren't particularly interested in a woman's level of education and that increasing levels of education may have an adverse impact on the size of a woman's dating pool. There are certainly men who feel threatened and unhappy when in a relationship with a partner who outranks them on some measure, be it accomplishment, cleverness. That's pretty silly, but it's their prerogative and their loss. However, I think the more common dynamic has less to do with education per se than with the consequences of increasing education, that is, greater specialization of labor. This can limit a woman's flexibility because it constrains her schedule and location. That is, a waitress can wait tables in a different city, or pick up or reduce her shifts, more easily than a doctor can. There are benefits to the education, too; it can increase a woman's earning potential, for example. And education yields the same costs and benefits for men. The difference is that men are still the higher earners in most marriages, and the lesser childcare providers, and many continue to conceive of their future that way. Men therefore have a greater incentive to seek a flexible partner than an economically secure one, and vice versa for women. Obligatory caveat, this is not true for all women or all men, obviously.

Luckily, it's not really the size of the dating pool that matters, but the fish that are in it. I'm not trying to date most men; one at a time is really my upper limit. And although some men don't want to date women with demanding careers--I've spotted them in the wild--I have a lot of idiosyncracies myself. One of them is that I have a stubborn tendency to date men who like smart women, and another is that I don't particularly want to end up with a man who expects his future partner to be a subsidiary of Husband Inc.. So for that and other reasons it probably is my "fault" that I'm not married. But I'm okay with that, having always aspired to have a leadership role in major decisions about my own life.

More generally, I'm reluctant to blame an entire gender or political party for economic and social structures. It is of course fair to say that if you're highly motivated to get married, whatever your gender, and are having a hard time finding someone, you might need to expand your screening criteria, whether it's education, height, or whatever else. And taking the economic view of marriage, at the risk of making it sound like I have a personality disorder, it would also be fair to say that if you anticipate being highly motivated to get married in the future, you might be advised to discount your short-term priorities in favor of your long-term goals. No guys in bands, that is. Of course if you're not highly motivated to get married that's fine too. There is still a stigma against being single in some quarters, especially for women, and I wish there wasn't. But you can't live your life on the basis of avoiding an irrational stigma, partly because you would be helping to perpetuate the stigma, leaving an equally neurotic world to the next generation. Free to be you and me, right?

A man who married up
04/26/2011 19:32

I doubt you would find consensus around data that suggests a higher geographic mobility for less educated people, men or women.

04/26/2011 19:53

Married up, eh? Smart boy :-)

You're probably right about the data, but I was thinking there's a difference between being geographically mobile and being willing to move should the question arise...perhaps?


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