Traditionally, there has been no stigma attached to a man marrying a woman who has less education and income. In fact, that is the way how it generally has been throughout history and women generally strove to “marry up.” The reverse, however, has not been true. A man whose wife makes more than him tends to bear a mark of shame for this failing as a man. After all, the sugar is supposed to be a daddy and not a mama.
However, things are changing. As of 2007, 22% of married women made more than their husbands. While this means that 78% of husbands make more, this is a significant change from 1970. Then, only 4% of women reported that they made more than their husbands. The trend seems to be continuing.
On the positive side, this can be taken as showing that society is becoming more equal in terms of gender. That is, women have more opportunities and better salaries than in the past. Given how expensive living is these days, this can be good for the husband.
On the negative side, part of the trend of women making more than their husbands can be attributed to the fact that the economic mess has hit traditional male jobs harder. As such, the wife might be making more because the husband is making less. However, even with this factored in, the trend can be seen more of the result of gain by women as opposed to a loss by men.
One reason why women are making more is that women are better educated than in the past. In fact, at the level of two and four year degrees, women are now the majority. This means that there are more marriages in which the wife is both better educated and better paid than her husband.
While women being better educated and better paid are good things, this does lead to concerns when it comes to relationships. While times have changed, attitudes tend to lag a bit behind. Women still seem to prefer to marry men whose education and income at least match their own. Male pride, of course, still moves men to prefer to be the breadwinner. As such, women are likely to find it more difficult to find a husband whose income and education match (or exceed) her own. If a woman marries a man with a lower education and income, then the likelihood of marital problems will increase. After all, there is the matter of male pride and the fact that money is often a source of conflict in marriages. While a disparity in education does not entail a disparity in intelligence, it can also be a source of problems.
For educated men who have high incomes, this situation might be a good thing. After all, they will be the smaller supply in a higher demand situation. It could also be a good thing for men who are willing to accept being the lower earner. After all, having a higher income partner means a better economic situation. As such, men who are able to adapt to the changing social conditions will be better off than those who cannot (or will not).
If the trend continues, we might see the rise of the sugar-mamas. This would certainly be an interesting reversal of roles, but perhaps not a very enlightened one.
T. J. Babson says
Seems like a lot of smart, sexy women have trouble finding *any* guys that are good enough. This is a great article describing how such women think:
Obviously, I wasn’t always an advocate of settling. In fact, it took not settling to make me realize that settling is the better option, and even though settling is a rampant phenomenon, talking about it in a positive light makes people profoundly uncomfortable. Whenever I make the case for settling, people look at me with creased brows of disapproval or frowns of disappointment, the way a child might look at an older sibling who just informed her that Jerry’s Kids aren’t going to walk, even if you send them money. It’s not only politically incorrect to get behind settling, it’s downright un-American. Our culture tells us to keep our eyes on the prize (while our mothers, who know better, tell us not to be so picky), and the theme of holding out for true love (whatever that is—look at the divorce rate) permeates our collective mentality.
My gosh have women changed their thinking since my grandparents were married. (My grandfather’s no longer here)
“even though settling is a rampant phenomenon”
LOL! Right. People skip form one person to another constantly. The don’t settle on anything and would even know perfection if they found it. Or they’d be afraid of it if they did.
Michael LaBossiere says
In an interesting coincidence, I was talking with a professional counselor and he mentioned noticing that people are less inclined to stick things out today. While the freedom that allows this can be a good thing, it seems that it can lead to a vicious cycle in which a person learns to simply quit rather than put in effort. While there are some relationships that should be ended, anything worthwhile does take effort and conflict between people is all but inevitable.
Michael LaBossiere says
In regards to settling, I think that one problem women (and men) face is that a person will tend to have a very high opinion of herself. For example, when people are asked to self-rank in various categories, the majority of people classify themselves as at least above average. This, of course, cannot be correct (by definition, the majority cannot be above average). As such, women (and men) will tend to be comparing prospective partners against their own overly inflated self-evaluation. So, when someone “settles” they might be “settling” with someone as good (or even better) as she is.
Another factor worth considering is the Prince Charming effect. Women (and men) are fed these ideals about how people and relationships should be. In most cases, these do not match reality, yet people seem to build expectations upon these false foundations-and are thus let down by the real people they meet. See my essay “Porn & Princes” in What Don’t You Know? (shameless self promotion).