Tuesday, January 03, 2006

NYTimes Pride and Prejudice

NYTimes' John Tierney has an interesting column about what he calls a modern day "pride and prejudice:" Men are more willing to marry up financially than women are to marry down financially. Which, of course, can create a problem. Especially, as Tierney notes, when in a few years the ratio of women to men studying for undergraduate degrees will be 60 to 40. (Note: the article is behind the evil subscription firewall. I read it for free through the university's LexisNexis account).

Tierney does seem to have a bit of his history wrong, though. I believe the whole idea of "traditionalist" men feeling emasculated by their wife's superior income is really a mid-20th century phenomenom. Why did medieval and Renaissance people draw up contracts for marriages? It was as much to secure a man's well-being by marrying into a good, wealthy family (and, what's more, to one of the older daughters who would have a larger dowry) as to secure a woman's well-being by marrying into a good, wealthy family. In my British history class this fall, one of the things we talked about was that as the British industrial middle class grew in the 19th century and the wealth of the landed elite declined, many British gentlemen turned to America to find rich heiresses to marry so that they could keep up their estates and lifestyle. Even in Austen, which Tierney cites, men are loathe to marry down. That's why Darcy and Bingley's sister encourage Bingley not to marry Jane, and it's one of Darcy's original problems (his "pride") with his interest in Elizabeth. That's why (in part) in Sense and Sensibility Willoughby abandons Marianne for a wealthier woman.

Of course, those are women who were wealthy by inheritance. What Tierney is talking about is women who are wealthy through their own personal knowledge and labor. Which, I can understand, would make "marrying down" a problem for women. Because the latter form of wealth, unlike the former, depends on the woman working. But what happens when she wants to stay at home, at least for a while, when the kids are young? Will the man be able to support that living arrangement? Naturally, families who would like one parent to stay home shouldn't expect a lavish lifestyle to be maintained (nor should we as Christians particularly desire that, anyway). But feeding, clothing, educating kids costs money.

Plus, as Tierney points out, if men are making a considerable amount less than their wives, it probably means their wives have a superior education - which could make things quite dull for the woman. I supposed men aren't as concerned with an educated partner as women are, I don't know (since I'm not a man). But I know that one of the definite things I'm looking for in a guy is an intelligence level at least equivalent to mine - not meaning that we're smart in the same things, necessarily, but that we have the same level of intelligence.

Here's Tierney's conclusion:

It's understandable that women with good paychecks have higher standards
for their partners, since their superior intelligence, education and income give
them what Buss calls high ''mate value.'' They know they're catches and want to
find someone with equal mate value -- someone like Mr. Darcy instead of a
dullard like the cleric spurned by Elizabeth Bennet.

"Of course, some women marry for love and find a man's resources
irrelevant,'' Buss says. ''It's just that the men women tend to fall in love
with, on average, happen to have more resources.''

Which means that, 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 on 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.