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January 05, 2005

Sad, But (Not Universally) True

I think there's more than a grain of truth to this:

MEN prefer their wives to be less intelligent than themselves and successful women struggle to stay married, research reveals.

Relationship experts say professional men prefer to marry women "like their mums" who do not challenge them intellectually.

And evidence backs up the commonly-held belief that women who succeed in careers find it hard to repeat that success in the home.

The study of 900 men and women measured their IQs at 11 and again 40 years later to see how their lives had moved on.

Academics from Bristol, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow universities who conducted the survey found that the brightest schoolgirls, unlike their male classmates, did not succeed in the marital stakes.

Christine Northam of Relate, a marriage guidance counselling service, said: "Many men do feel intimidated by intelligent women. If their mum and dad played traditional roles, even if they are liberal themselves, they have to do a huge leap to find a way of finding and holding down a new role from the one they were shown as a child."

I think the article oversimplifies the issue a bit. It also sells men short. I've found the "men prefer to marry women like their mums..." statement to be, on the whole, quite accurate. It's the second part: "...who do not challenge them intellectually" that doesn't hold up under close inspection.

Having had close male friends all my life and raised two sons with whom I remain extremely close, I've observed that men often seek out women who remind them of their mothers, especially if they had a close relationship with her. My observations could be biased, since men with female friends may also be closer to their Moms. Such men are usually more comfortable with women than their male counterparts.

But I've also had male friends who had difficult relationships with women; who seemed to enjoy having a female friend precisely because they didn't understand or get along well with most women.

What I've seen with most of my male friends is that, if their mental relationship with their mother was close and engaging, they liked to see these qualities in other women. Certainly both my sons chose women who challenged them intellectually. My oldest son's wife, while quite feminine in manner and appearance, just earned her Masters' degree (he has a BA). She began grad school right after college and was very driven to finish. This doesn't appear to bother him in the least; he's very proud of her.

My younger son's girlfriend is also his mental equal. She currently lives in another state while she pursues her PhD, yet he fully understands and supports her decision. She would have liked him to relocate to be closer to her, but his job prospects were better in the DC area. He hopes to start grad school this year, but since his employer will be paying for it he wasn't able to start right after graduation, as she did. They seem to have an easy relationship characterized by mutual respect.

And while I know my own husband would much prefer I stay at home and manage the house as I did for years, he recognized that once our children grew up I needed to go back to school and do something with my mind. It hasn't always been an easy adjustment for him, but he is a strong and confident man who takes genuine pride in my accomplishments over the years, as I do in his.

I think perhaps the secret in all of this may lie in biology, and more in the elusive word "challenge" than in the "intellectual" component. For all our sophistication, humans are still intensely physical creatures. In our social interactions, we still instinctively seek to find our place in the pecking order. This seems to be even more important for men than women, who tend to value cooperation and consensus over an orderly hierarchical social structure.

Studies show that for men, establishing dominance matters very much. In the workplace, something as seemingly silly as physical size can help or hinder men as they rise or fall in the office pecking order. Thus, tall men are more likely to become top executives than shorter men. After duking it out all day in the office jungle, I should think the last thing a man wants is to come home and arm-wrestle over who gets to rule the roost.

Therefore, it may not be so much intelligence as aggressiveness that's at issue here. It's the stridency of the women's movement that turns so many men off. By teaching our daughters they need to Fight the Power, contest every issue, win every battle, feminists do them a great disservice. There is a masculine and a feminine way of doing things. Subtlety is fast becoming a lost art in modern society. One doesn't need a sledgehammer to kill a gnat: to use an oft-quote cliche, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. There's a line from Frank Herbert's novel Dune that I'd have taught my daughter, had I been blessed with one: sometimes, "That which submits, rules".

Most men want to be King, and to be perfectly honest, as long as they're reasonable about it, a lot of women secretly prefer a man who's not afraid to take control too.

It's a basic biological or sexual urge that has nothing whatever to do with logic or reason. I may fight the Spousal Unit to a standstill at times (and I do) over control of various domestic issues, but believe me, the last thing I want him to do is knuckle under - that would bore me to death! Like him, I rather enjoy a challenge. Over 25 years of marriage, we've developed our respective Spheres of Influence, secured by informal treaty and frequent intense peacemaking negotiations.

As long as he respects my rights, open warfare is averted and peace reigns supreme.

Via John Hawkins at Right Wing News

Posted by Cassandra at January 5, 2005 04:58 AM

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Personally I am attracted to intelligent women and turned off by stupidity. I just want my wife to worship the ground I walk on, which just so happens to be more likely if they are intelligent.

Posted by: Pile OnĀ® at January 5, 2005 07:34 AM

The whole marriage/intelligence debate may have a simple explanation, more than any deeper meaning. Let me take a shot at it.

Surely, as an initial matter, smart women "marry better" than stupid women. I am guessing that it would be a fairly simple matter to show that the top 200 women in any recent class at Princeton, Yale or Wellesley (to pick three top colleges with a lot of smart women) married vastly more successful (i.e., wealthier, more powerful and more prestigious) men than the bottom 200 women in any recent class at, say, Rutgers. The reason for this probably has more to do with social stratification in our increasingly ruthless meritocracy, rather than anything about how men and women interact.

Setting aside the rate of marriage for a moment (it may be that more women in the elite group stay independent), the question, then, is whether the "smart women" (recognizing that I'm using a crude measure) had more successful or enduring marriages than the [throat clearing noise] "average" women.

I certainly don't know the answer here, but I would guess that divorce is no higher among the smart women than the average women. Lots of money -- and most dual-income Ivy League couples have lots of money -- cures a lot of problems that stress out middle class families. But even if the divorce rate for the "smart" women is higher, it may simply be because they and their spouses have both greater expectations and greater options than their "average" counterparts. By the time they are middle-aged, smart women are more attractive than "average" women, and they are more likely to be able to earn a decent living on their own. That may make divorce a more attractive alternative for those women.

I may write more on this later, but I gotta shower and go bring home the bacon.

Posted by: Jack at January 5, 2005 07:50 AM

I will gladly be henpecked by a smart and successful woman. Fine with me. Yup.

Posted by: Lonely Man at January 5, 2005 01:36 PM

I don't think the issue is intelligence. I've met many women who were not so intelligent as I am (though it sounds arrogant to say it), but had much more successful careers. They were aggressive and ambitious for those careers and I was not.

There is a much more subtle sexism in this: the idea that women who choose a domestic life are not intelligent, and that money is the measure of success in life.

Purple and I have great conversations. I can't completely agree with the point about mothers, either, and suggest that perhaps it has more to do with how close a woman was to her father. How much of the woman's side of this has been explored?

Posted by: MrsPurpleRaider at January 5, 2005 04:55 PM

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