Status and marriage

Australian demographer Bernard Salt below is almost certainly right in saying that women still like to "marry up" and is also right to say that educational attainment is not the sole criterion of "up". Many men have caught on to the education hoax and know they can do better financially in business. One rather pities women who are piling up debt to get a probably useless degree while their less gullible brothers are already out in the workforce both earning money and gaining the experience that often trumps education. Such women will be more in need of a rich husband than ever

I have been married four times so have had some time to think about these matters and my conclusion is that the best wife for a highly educated man is a smart working class girl without a university background. The ideas and aspirations of highly educated women ("saving the planet" etc.) can be a pain and a distraction whereas the working class girl concentrates all her intelligence and energies on her relationships, thus securing better results in that field.

And education does not automatically lead to shared interests. A man with a degree in mathematics is not thereby going to have much in common with a woman who has an equivalent degree in anthropology. Such a pair could in fact be totally incomprehending of one-another -- JR

LATE last month I participated in the Sustaining Women in Business conference in Melbourne. I was a panellist in a session titled a New Era of Work, which explored work habits.

My co-panellist for the session was Canadian author Avivah Wittenburg-Cox author of How Women Mean Business. I talked about how technology has changed the way we work; Ms Wittenburg-Cox made the point that young women were now more likely than young men to hold a university degree.

But rather than explore why tertiary education might be failing our young men, Ms Wittenburg-Cox expressed concern for her daughter: "Who is she going to marry?"

Clearly from this question Ms Wittenburg-Cox expects her daughter to select a partner from a modest and possibly shrinking pool of tertiary-educated men.

She raised the thorny issue of "partnering up" versus "partnering down". What could I do but defend the partnering prospects of the male gender by registering my protest. "But isn't love blind?" I implored. "If someone is a good bloke who cares deeply for your daughter, then what does it matter how smart he is?"

It is fair to say that the room of perhaps 300 women immediately erupted. My impression was that the room divided more or less equally: some agreed with me -- love is blind -- whereas others seemed to adopt a, shall we say, more pragmatic approach.

At this point it is worth recounting some demographic facts. Despite four decades of feminism, women still, on average, choose to marry an older man. In 2009, the age difference was 23 months.

If love and marriage are truly random selections, then women would be equally predisposed to choosing a partner who was older or younger. On this basis it can be concluded that women still marry up. Older men are more likely to be better established in their careers and therefore would be more mature and better providers.

But there are other issues. There are simply more men than women in Australia throughout childhood, puberty and into the twentysomething hooking-up decade. This oversupply of men enables women, in fact encourages women, to select the best available from of whatever's on offer.

By dint of the laws of demand and supply of potential partners, women have at least the opportunity, if not a downright proclivity, to partner up. At least that's the theory.

But here's the problem. As women increasingly gain access to tertiary education their inbuilt potential partner filter excludes more and more men.

Ms Wittenburg-Cox's concern for her daughter's prospects is justified because there are not enough smart men to partner smart (or at least university educated) women.

The solution is for women to reinterpret partnering up to include men who may be self-employed and self-confident, who are caring and connected and who are aligned with their partners in values and thinking. These men may meet other stringent potential partner criteria but not actually hold a university degree.

But there again I have yet another theory. If there is a shrinking pool of university-educated alpha men, snaring one of these rare and exotic creatures might be regarded as the ultimate symbol of corporate success for an alpha woman.

If such a man-in-demand commits to her, in the process forsaking all others, does this not reflect positively on the alpha female? Indeed, with the continued success of women in the workforce, might we see the rise of the trophy husband?

Here is a man who is university educated, sporty (code for athletic body), tall, cooks, supports his partner's career, looks after the children, is sociable, witty and charming, doesn't smoke or drink to excess, speaks a second language, plays a musical instrument, volunteers at a local homeless shelter and loves nothing better than going for long romantic walks on deserted beaches.

Oh dear, I can see half the room at the Sustainable Women in Business conference, including Ms Wittenburg-Cox, swooning at the very thought of the educated but the oh-so-elusive trophy husband. Sigh.


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