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More Men Marrying 'Up,' and What We Think About That

5 years ago
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Have modern marriage, women's income and education levels intersected in such a way as to foment "The Rise of the Sugar Mama"?

Some signs certainly point that way, including a new Pew Foundation report that says more women today are marrying men with less education and less income than they themselves have.

The "Rise of Wives" report focuses on the economics of marriage and U.S.-born men and women aged 30-44, "a stage of life when typical adults have completed their education, gone to work and gotten married," say Richard Fry and D'Vera Cohn, the report's authors. "Americans in this age group are the first such cohort in U.S. history to include more women than men with college degrees."

According to the report:

"A larger share of men in 2007, compared with their 1970 counterparts, are married to women whose education and income exceed their own . . . A larger share of women are married to men with less education and income. From an economic perspective, these trends have contributed to a gender role reversal in the gains from marriage. In the past, when relatively few wives worked, marriage enhanced the economic status of women more than that of men. In recent decades, however, the economic gains associated with marriage have been greater for men than for women." (Emphasis mine.)

Below, a round-up and my analysis of some of the media coverage:

The Washington Post's write-up made sure to remind us that while women have gained economic ground, the majority aren't surpassing their spouses: "Men are still the major contributors of household income -- with 78 percent making at least as much or more than their wives -- but the percentage of women whose income has outpaced their husband's has more than quadrupled, jumping from just 4 percent in 1970 to 22 percent now."

Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak laments, "It continues to be a man's world, only a little more comfy these days." Interestingly, she tries to square the Pew report and its findings with another recent study, "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness." This study, says Dvorak, found "that women, despite their huge social and economic leaps, aren't feeling all zippity-do-dah about life these days." Dvorak attempts to connects the dots: "While earning more and working more, most women still have to do most of the stuff at home that they did before they got the corner office and the corporate bonus . . . We are a generation of working women trapped between two extremes."

National Public Radio expanded on the findings of the report, with analysis provided by Stephanie Coontz, author of "Marriage: A History." Coontz referenced a poll from 1967 that found that "two-thirds of women said they'd consider marrying a man they did not love if he had good earnings potential."

"Now," says Coontz, "women have a completely different point of view . . . They say overwhelmingly -- 87 percent -- that it's more important to have a man who can communicate well, who can be intimate and who will share the housework than to have someone who makes more money than you do."

The New York Times article on the Pew report read more like a trend piece ("Cosmo with statistics" was how my Woman Up colleague Ria Misra put it). The women's blog Jezebel found the article to be just another re-hash of the tired narrative that is "the single, high earning professional female who can't find a man."

Jezebel singles out this quote from the article: "Ms. Zielinski, the fashion stylist, said her best friend, a man, told her once: 'You are confident, have good credit, own your own business, travel around the world and are self-sufficient. What man is going to want you?' He laughed, but I found that pretty depressing."

This Pew report has caused quite a buzz on the Woman-Up email thread, so keep an eye out for some interesting conversation on the topic from our Woman-Up bloggers.
Filed Under: Woman Up
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