One Key To Marital Success: Have Fewer Options

A dozen readers have emailed me these two articles about the state of American women and their marriage prospects. One even breathlessly asked if this “disproves the CH worldview”. Leaving aside for the moment the oddity of terming a keen grasp of reality as approximating something close to a “worldview”, I had a curious look at the articles. Both articles were written by women (*cough* lesbians *cough*) who don’t much like the recent cultural trend imploring American women to mind the wall and settle for Mr. Good Enough before it’s too late.

Want to Be Happily Married? Go to College.
New research shows women with degrees are luckier in love.

[…] “Marriage rates in the U.S. for college-educated women have risen enormously since the 1950s,” Stevenson said. “In 1950, less than three quarters of white college-educated women went on to marry by age 40 [compared with 90 percent of high-school graduates]. But today, 86 percent marry by age 40, compared with 88 percent of high-school grads.”

Another way of stating this is that by age 40, it continues to be the case in 2010 that more high school-educated women than college-educated women get married. The problem with this study’s conclusions are twofold. One, very few women were attending college in the 1950s. When a huge rate increase is experienced, as in the case of women attending college in the 1950s versus 2010, you run into problems with outlier bias. That small cohort of women going to college in 1950 may have been disproportionately lesbian or ugly or socially maladroit. Trendsetters normally have something odd about them which sets them apart from conventional society, as would be similarly the case for those trailblazing emo dudes who first stormed the vaj walls of formerly female-only colleges like Vassar.

Two, “marriage by age 40″ is a poor metric. By age 40, most women’s shelf lives have expired. Thus, all you are measuring is a bunch of overeducated women who delayed marriage to men they truly desired and were forced to settle for a schlump once their looks began the cruel fade in earnest.

Of course, expectations have changed dramatically in the last half century. “In the 1950s, a lot of women thought they needed to marry right away,” Coontz said. “Real wages were rising so quickly that men in their 20s could afford to marry early. But they didn’t want a woman who was their equal; they wanted a woman who looked up to the man. Men needed and wanted someone who knew less.” In fact, she said, research published by sociologist Mirra Komarovsky in 1946 documented that 40 percent of college women admitted to playing dumb on dates. “These days, few women feel the need to play down their intelligence or achievements,” Coontz said.

Maybe I missed the goldmine of statistical inference, but where is the countervailing research showing that “these days, few women feel the need to play down their intelligence or achievements”? Some of these people write as if they haven’t been on a date in ten years. I can tell you that, yes, educated women continue to play down their educational credentials, if not directly then indirectly by avoiding talking about them in favor of interrogating the man about his credentials. This is the case even when their credentials and accomplishments pale in comparison to mine. It is the nature of women to want to look up to a stronger man.

The new research has more good news for college grads. Stevenson said the data indicate that modern college-educated women are more likely than other groups of women to be married at age 40, are less likely to divorce, and are more likely to describe their marriages as “happy” (no matter what their income) compared with other women.

Options means instability. At 40, a woman has fewer options in the mating market, and so she is less likely to be tempted to leave a marriage for a better prospect, or even a different prospect. It is no surprise then, that divorce rates are lower for couples who got married later in life. If you want marital success (I hesitate to call it happiness) then the key is to limit your options. The human rationalization hamster, punch drunk on fermented sour grapes, will then rev up and provide all the excuses you need for maintaining the illusion of marital accord. It’s funny how quickly a lack of choice can render a less than stellar life situation immediately and palpably bearable. “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be”.

The marriages of well-educated women tend to be more stable because the brides are usually older as well as wiser, Stevenson said.

And uglier.

“When a man with only a high school degree marries by age 20, there’s a 49 percent chance that he will be divorced within 10 years,” she said. “Compare that with the man who gets married in his mid-30s who has a college degree. Ninety percent will still be married 10 years later.”

Time for a game-approved reframe! “When a man with only a high school degree marries a coed hottie by age 20, there’s a 49 percent chance that he will be divorced within ten years, because his sperm and her eggs are itching to dive back into the sampler platter before their windows of opportunity close. Compare that with the college-educated man who gets married in his mid-30s to a mangy cougar on the prowl. Ninety percent will still be married ten years later, because no one else will have them.”

See how illuminating the social sciences can be?

College-educated couples are also more likely to marry for companionship and love and compatibility rather than for financial security.

Translation: College-educated women who delay marriage no longer bring the goods to the table to snag an alpha suitor. College-educated men who marry one of these older college-educated women for lack of options have willed themselves to believe compatibility is an acceptable substitute for hot and sexy babealicious looks.

“For women, financial stability used to be the most important reason for marriage,” she said. “Today, educated women are a lot less concerned about how much their husband earns,” she said, and more interested in whether “he is willing to share child care and housework.”

Keep telling yourself that, sister. To all the men reading this: For the unholy love of the great biomechanical machine in the sky, do not ever allow yourself to listen to women and become a kitchen bitch. That’s a one way ticket to marital oblivion.

Over the last half century, more women and men have been putting off marriage, and the group of women who have never been married at age 40 has grown over time.

This to me seems the most relevant factor in discussions of marriage and divorce rates.

But even among this group, Stevenson said, college grads who want to get married eventually have an advantage because they are  “twice as likely to marry in the next 10 years” as unmarried 40-year-olds with just a high-school degree.

If a beta chump is forced to settle for a past-prime 40 year old woman, it makes sense he would at least find an employed woman who isn’t going to suck him dry with her paint huffing habit. And let’s face it, most of the women in the “unmarried 40-year-old with just a high school degree” group are likely single moms towing around a broodclan of bratty snotnosed ingrates. College-educated spinsters at least have had the decency to refrain from blasting out their wombs with the multiple spawn of past lovers and foisting the product on the schmoes she’s resigned herself to dating.

The data also point to significant racial differences. While white women with college degrees are slightly less likely to marry than their less-educated sisters, a different scenario emerges among African-American women. Today, 70 percent of black college-educated women marry by age 40, compared with 53 percent of those who never finished high school. In the 1950s, black college-educated women were much less likely to marry than those with less education. “What all this tells me is that our perceptions lag behind the reality of our time,” Stevenson said. “College-educated women have been closing the gap very steadily.”

Gee, funny that they left this part out until the very end of the article. So college-educated white women — you know, the type of woman who reads articles in Slate and Newsweek — are less likely to marry than uneducated white women, and that the biggest reason for the change in overall marriage rates of college-educated women is the rapid increase in marital rates of educated black women. I think there’s a story here.

So if you’re looking for another reason to encourage a young woman to get her college degree, add this one to the list: chances are, you’ll be luckier in love.

Not quite, unless by “luckier in love” she means “luckier despite love”.

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