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February 16, 2012

Are Educated Women to Blame for the Declining Marriage Rate?

According to James Taranto, it would seem so:

As Charles Murray shows in his new book, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010," marriage has declined much less sharply among the educated and affluent than among the so-called working class. But it has still declined, and it can be expected to decline more absent a reversal of the trend toward greater female education and accomplishment.

Let's step through Taranto's assertions because I think they deserve some critical review. I've enumerated what I take to be his points and will address each of them in turn:

1. [Quoting Bennett and Hymowitz] These days, educated young women can find jobs, but not husbands.

That's an interesting assertion. Do actual marriage statistics back it up, or are we about to hear the usual string of carefully selected anecdotes and quotes in lieu of evidence? I suspect the latter.

2. In the NYT, Stephanie Coontz disagrees. In the past, educated women were less likely to marry. Today educated women actually have the advantage in the marriage market.

If this is true we should be able to find data that supports her assertion, and in her essay Coontz provides just that:

For more than a century, women often were forced to choose between an education and a husband. Of women who graduated from college before 1900, more than three-quarters remained single. As late as 1950, one-third of white female college graduates ages 55 to 59 had never married, compared with only 7 percent of their counterparts without college degrees.

...By 2008, the percentage of college-educated white women ages 55 to 59 who had never been married was down to 9 percent, just 3 points higher than their counterparts without college degrees. And among women 35 to 39, there was no longer any difference in the percentage who were married.

African-American women are less likely to marry than white women overall, but educated black women are considerably more likely to marry than their less-educated counterparts. As of 2008, 70 percent of African-American female college graduates had married, compared with 60 percent of high school graduates and just 53 percent of high school dropouts.

One reason educated heterosexual women may worry about their marriage prospects today is that overall marriage rates have been slipping since 1980. But they have slipped less for educated women than for anyone else. Furthermore, college-educated women, once they do marry, are much less likely to divorce. As a result, by age 30, and especially at ages 35 and 40, college-educated women are significantly more likely to be married than any other group. And according to calculations by the economist Betsey Stevenson, an educated woman still single at age 40 is much more likely to marry in the next decade than her less educated counterparts.

3. Taranto quotes Charles Murray: marriage has declined less among educated/affluent than it has among the working class. It is then that he lays a stunner on us:

But it has still declined, and it can be expected to decline more absent a reversal of the trend toward greater female education and accomplishment.

Let's see if I have Taranto's argument straight:

1. Today, working class, less educated men and women are less likely to marry.

2. Today, educated, affluent men and women are the most likely to get - and stay - married.

3. Unless the trend of greater female education and accomplishment is reversed, marriage will continue to decline.

What is being argued here? How are educated, affluent women causing the lower classes to steer clear of marriage? If there's a clear cause and effect visible here (or even a clear correlation between educated women marrying MORE OFTEN than they once did and less educated women marrying LESS OFTEN than they once did), it has yet to be made plain to this reader. These are the kind of assertions Thomas Sowell so aptly calls as "arguments without arguments": bold, emotionally seductive statements that require no facts to support them because they are so self-evidently self-evident (at least to the pandered-to reader) that no sane person would question their provenance or foundation.

I can see why so many men think women are incapable of logic, for despite trying manfully to do so, I have utterly failed to tease out the golden thread of reason from this tangled skein.

(4) [Taranto]: Pay no attention to those annoying statistics! Yesterday's educated women were thankfully rare because they were emasculating harpies no man in his right mind would want to waltz down the aisle. Nowadays, "agreeable women" are more likely to get a PhD.

Here I am truly confused. It probably took more gumption in Grandma's time for a woman to earn a college degree, but I'm not sure gumption implies a disagreeable or man hating nature. It seems reasonable to posit that in a time where women were expected to marry, women who resisted that temptation were arguably less interested in marriage (and "less interested" here is not equivalent to "not interested") than women who went with the flow. But again, I'm not sure of the suggested correlation between higher education and misandry.

Interestingly, both my grandmothers earned college degrees. One was a writer who worked on radio and on Broadway and the other was a schoolteacher. They were both working mothers.

My mother and mother in law, on the other hand, both married after high school and stayed at home to raise their children full time. These are anecdotes, not evidence. I didn't finish college until I was nearly 40. My two daughters in law have a PhD and a Masters degree. Neither of my sons does - they both have a Bachelors and no graduate education.

Question for the ages: did my daughters in law "marry down"? If they did, is this a bad thing?

At this point, Mr. Taranto addresses debatable assertions that today's culture is very different from the one in place in the early 20th century (a shocker, I know). Coontz argues that modern men are more accepting of educated, accomplished women than the manly men of yore. In other words, modern men are less inclined to be hypogamous - to marry down. While I have no direct evidence to offer, I well remember the kinds of remarks that were commonplace when I was growing up in the 1960s: women aren't as smart or capable as men, women belong in the home, women's hormone cycles make them prone to fits of irrational behavior (God forbid a woman ever get her Lee Nails on the nuclear football during her period! She'd blow the world up!).

"Don't worry your pretty little head about that, missy."

So are men biologically programmed to look down on women, or have they just learned to cover up their feelings? What are the desires of their hearts?

I can't take men who say stupid and needlessly insulting things any more seriously than I take feminists who blissfully assert that men are responsible for all the violence and discord in the world or assure me that a world run by women would be an egalitarian paradise without blemish. If there is one reassuring constant to be found in history it is that idiocy is no respecter of gender norms, whether traditional or supposedly enlightened.

Though I can cite no evidence to refute or support the idea that modern men aren't as threatened by educated/accomplished women, my life experience suggests that their attitudes have changed somewhat as intelligent people so often do when the world around them changes. I work in a technical, male dominated field (IT). My husband, though initially just as threatened by my shift from stay at home wife and mother to college educated, high earning professional as I was when he earned his Masters' degree, adjusted beautifully. So did I.

Change is always threatening. It's not smart not to be threatened by change - it is, by definition, something we're unprepared for by experience. But humans possess the ability to adapt to change and arguably require it. Coontz's point, as I took it, was not that biological urges are unimportant, but that they are mitigated and influenced by culture. Not so fast, says Taranto:

... it isn't clear to what extent responses to such surveys reflect the heart's desire as opposed to cultural conditioning or social expectation. To be sure, both affect the decisions people make, but when cultural expectations are not in line with human nature, the latter can win out in ugly and disruptive ways. Remember Anthony Weiner? In 1995 he made the politically correct assertion that he wanted to marry "someone smarter than me." He acted on that purported desire, but his subsequent behavior suggested he was deluding himself about what he really wanted.

Did Weiner cheat because he violated a biological imperative that men marry women less educated than themselves? If so, one wonders why cheating was rampant long before feminists and educated women destroyed marriage. Taranto goes on to remind us of another supposed biological imperative: female hypergamy.

... the problem that female education poses to marriage is a product of female, not male, mate preference--of what Coontz calls "the cultural ideal of hypergamy--that women must marry up."

That is where Coontz goes badly wrong. Any evolutionary psychologist will tell you that female hypergamy--more broadly defined as the drive to mate with dominant males--is an animal instinct, not a product of human culture, which can only restrain or direct it. Seemingly without realizing it, Coontz provides powerful anecdotal evidence in support of that assertion:

When the journalist Liza Mundy interviewed young women for her forthcoming book on female breadwinners, she found that most wanted a mate they could "look up to" or "admire"--and didn't think they could admire a man who was less educated than they were. During a talk I recently gave to a women's group in San Francisco, an audience member said, "I want him to respect what I know, but I also want him to know just a little more than me." One of my students once told me, "it's exciting to be a bit in awe of a guy."

For a century, women have binged on romance novels that encouraged them to associate intimidation with infatuation; it's no wonder that this emotional hangover still lingers.

Coontz labors mightily to dismiss these hypergamous sentiments as the product of culture. But in the reality of 21st-century postfeminist America, they are highly countercultural--especially at gathering of "a women's group," and in San Francisco of all places! They are evidence of human nature too strong for ideology to overcome.

Once again we have "powerful" anecdotal evidence (!) in lieu of hard facts. Never mind that the one demographic where marriage is still strong is young, well educated women and men. These pesky facts are somehow overruled when scientists (which Taranto has been quick to ridicule when their latest pronouncements undercut his beliefs about how the world works) play the biological trump card and journalists miraculously ask women who haven't been able to find husbands what they're looking for and find (gasp!) that their ideas of what constitutes a suitable mate are unrealistic.

But the most disturbing thing in Taranto's long essay is his sneering contempt for so-called beta males:

For young ladies anxious about spending their lives alone, Coontz offers this advice:
Valentine's Day is a perfect time to reject the idea that the ideal man is taller, richer, more knowledgeable, more renowned or more powerful. The most important predictor of marital happiness for a woman is not how much she looks up to her husband but how sensitive he is to her emotional cues and how willing he is to share the housework and child-care. And those traits are often easier to find in a low-key guy than a powerhouse.

I am not arguing that women ought to "settle."

That last sentence is both funny and poignant. Coontz has just advised young ladies to marry short, poor, ignorant, obscure, ineffectual men who will help with household chores. If that's not settling, the word has no meaning.

I started being interested in and going steady with boys in the 7th grade. Like most young, inexperienced girls, I was initially bowled over by the tallest, most athletic, flashiest and smoothest talking boys in the class. In the 7th grade, that bar is set pretty low.

By the end of 8th grade I had figured out that the kind of boy who initially attracted me was exactly the kind of boy I did NOT want to date. I knew because I had gone steady with several of them and they bored me to tears. As I matured, my criteria gradually evolved. Appearance and surface charm no longer impressed me as they once had. I learned to distrust my gut reaction and employ my values, my upbringing, and my brain a bit more.

And so when I first met the man who is now my husband, I had a very different impression of him than I would have, had I met him in the 8th grade.

He was one of the tallest boys in the senior class, and one of the few who could grow a beard. He lettered in 3 sports and started in football and basketball. His room was littered with trophies and awards and he easily got into every college to which he applied (including several Ivies and the Naval Academy). He was handsome, broad shouldered, muscular: a man in a class of boys.

And I had no interest in him for most of the senior year. I knew exactly who he was - after all, he lived just two doors down from me. He sat directly across from me in Honors English. He was the very definition of a high status, alpha male.

And I can honestly say none of that moved me until I got to know him as a person and realized that he was precisely the kind of man I was looking for: a man who would be a loving husband and father. A man who was considerate and kind, and who treated me like a princess. He still does, 35 years later.

We are not bonobo apes or chimps. Though biology does shape our world view and sometimes our actions, human beings have a tripartite nature: we are body, mind, spirit. And culture plays a profound role in how we view and interact with the world around us. Scientists are discovering that external events can switch genes on and off. Our hormone levels are profoundly influenced by mundane matters like whether our sports team wins the Superbowl or the sight of a pretty girl. They are influenced by childbirth, which alters the levels of both testosterone and estrogen in both men and women.

I will never forget the moment I fell in love with my husband.

We were sitting in a quiet hallway at school talking about history. It was a two way conversation in which he didn't back down or seem threatened when I ventured an opinion or made an argument. He didn't give an inch when I tested his assertions. But neither did he seem to need to dominate me, which is good because I can't imagine anything more likely to turn me off. I remember looking at his hands and thinking how strong they looked. "This is a man who will protect me and our children", I thought. "And he's intelligent; his intellect is lively. I will still be interested in what he has to say when we're no longer young and attractive."

I don't remember thinking, "Oh THANK GOD he's way smarter than me. He'll be a good little wage earner, well able to provide me with an ample supply of Manolos and high end jewelry." What I felt was more like recognition than ambition; it was a feeling that we fit together. That we were evenly yoked. That I had come home. And I had, and I have, and I always will.

That is what I look forward to every night when I come home after a long day at the office. My heart gladdens and my pulse skips a few beats when he walks through the door.

I don't know what makes some people want to reduce human nature to the level of our most elemental instincts. We are so much more than that: we have souls and minds that, given the chance to blossom, soar to heights no chimp ever dreamed of.

The tragedy of Islam is that it fears giving women freedom. It fears losing control of them. Even if it were literally true that men and marriage can't succeed in a world where women are allowed to - allowed to - stretch their wings (and I don't for one moment believe this to be the case), would it be morally right to purchase predictability and security at such a dear cost?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Posted by Cassandra at February 16, 2012 07:36 AM

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Comments

I remember the moment I fell in love with my husband.... I was in the middle of graduate school applications and was incredibly stressed out about it. My then-boyfriend called me, and when he heard how stressed out and miserable I was, he offered to drive two hundred miles that night just to give me a hug. Needless to say, I didn't take him up on it ;). But something in my mind that night told me, "This one is special. Hang onto him."

My husband is not athletic; never has been, and has no interest in sports. He only has a B.A. while I just completed my Ph.D. He is not talkative or outgoing; he is quiet and introverted, just like I am -- we've actually joked that we're both so quiet, if we have kids, they'll be elective mutes. (Actually, I've never really been attracted to the outgoing, athletic types, probably because I'm not those things myself.) But I have never, ever, *ever* doubted that he will be there for me through thick and thin. That no matter what, he will support me and love me till the end of days, and put me first in everything, just as I strive to do him. Those are the qualities that attracted me to him; that keep me attracted, to this day; that make our marriage the best thing in my life by a long shot.

his subsequent behavior suggested he was deluding himself about what he really wanted.

Would that be to flash his junk to random women on the internet?

Posted by: colagirl at February 16, 2012 11:25 AM

Now I wish I'd thought to place a bet on whether you'd respond to this piece. :)

I'm more sympathetic to the use of anecdotal evidence in matters of the heart, because statistics have a pretty poor track record: all those computer dating sites that generate models for what kinds of people ought to like each other don't seem to work very well. Thus, I took the part of the long quote that you didn't bold to be a significant point:

Coontz labors mightily to dismiss these hypergamous sentiments as the product of culture. But in the reality of 21st-century postfeminist America, they are highly countercultural--especially at gathering of "a women's group," and in San Francisco of all places! They are evidence of human nature too strong for ideology to overcome.

The problem isn't really 'hypergamy' or 'hypogamy,' though. Let's say it's true that you want to marry up. What does that mean? There's not a determinate answer.

In other words, I think your "question for the ages" is the right question. Again, suppose that the hypergamy hypothesis is true. Even if it's true that women achieve more degrees (in fields that may or may not be worth anything) and have greater success on average in workplace environments, that doesn't mean they're 'marrying down' if they marry a forest ranger. He's still likely to be taller than them, stronger than them, and -- because he's living and working outdoors rather than in a stressful office -- happier than a male co-worker from the office would be. He's the kind of mate a woman can feel proud of around her sisters (which solves any hypergamous tension she may be feeling), and she's the kind of man she can probably love (which is the real point).

The relative flatness of the male IQ curve means that men will continue to dominate many fields, and the testosterone issue means that one of those fields will probably be politics. Thus, I don't worry about the future of men.

For those men who get out-competed by women in the office, it probably means a job they'll like better anyway. I've had to work in offices some years, and I've always been perfectly miserable from the minute I walk in at morning until several hours after I leave in the afternoon. What a hell the office is! If my wife were great at that, she could bring home the big bucks and I could be a cowboy poet. Anybody who thinks I'd be getting the losing end of that deal is welcome to their preference.

Posted by: Grim at February 16, 2012 11:25 AM

Would that be to flash his junk to random women on the internet?

Apparently. One can only hope there were uneducated womynfolk on the receiving end of that broadcast.

I would so hate for the desires of Herr Weiner's heart to be cruelly denied.

Posted by: Bwa Ha Ha Ha Ha!!!! at February 16, 2012 11:52 AM

Me: Hmm, what is this I see before me?

Myself: Why it appears to be a large hole in the ground with nasty looking spikes at the bottom!

Me: You think it to be a trap of some kind?

Myself: No, it couldn't be. There are no dangers here! This is the internet!

Me: ... *blink*

Myself: Oh, come on! It would be a wonderful adventure!

Me: *Peers over edge* Maybe not.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano who's having a conversation with himself at February 16, 2012 12:02 PM

Even if it's true that women achieve more degrees (in fields that may or may not be worth anything) and have greater success on average in workplace environments, that doesn't mean they're 'marrying down' if they marry a forest ranger.

Agreed. What people aren't taking into account is that it's the whole package of attributes that we accept or reject. If you can't support yourself, earning power matters tremendously in a mate. But if you can earn a living, that becomes less important and willingness to support you becomes more important.

I've seen this in my own life. After 20+ years as a FT homemaker I went back to work. And the whole dynamic of our marriage has changed as a result. What used to work, would never work now. So we adapted.

Oddly, my husband says that he wouldn't want me to stop working now. He actually *likes* it that I work. I have more doubts about it than he does.

But that wasn't the case at first.

He's still likely to be taller than them, stronger than them, and -- because he's living and working outdoors rather than in a stressful office -- happier than a male co-worker from the office would be.

Maybe taller, almost certainly stronger. I have always thought that (again) it's the whole package that counts. A confident man who is shorter *seems* more imposing than a taller, diffident man. It's the overall impression that counts.

He's the kind of mate a woman can feel proud of around her sisters (which solves any hypergamous tension she may be feeling), and she's the kind of man she can probably love (which is the real point).

I don't know that I have ever experienced this 'hypergamous tension' you men seem so impressed by :p I can look at hunky muscular male models but would not want to marry one. Real people (or at least intelligent, non-dysfunctional ones) are a bit more complex than the evolutionary psych types would have it.

I think the whole hypergamy argument is beyond stupid. It's a great excuse for why a guy can't get laid - it's never his fault, and it certainly can't be possible that women don't sit around all day hoping some random guy will proposition them for a bout of hot, commitment free sex.

No, it's just that [DRAMA] WOMEN ARE HYPERGAAAAAAAAAAMOUS!!!! [\DRAMA]

Posted by: Cass at February 16, 2012 12:12 PM

Even if it's true that women achieve more degrees (in fields that may or may not be worth anything) ...

According to whom?

Yes, I saw Dr. Helen's post asserting that any degree that is non-mathemagical in nature is "not worth anything". As someone with a degree that is eminently (by that narrow definition at least) "worth something", allow me to call BS.

My youngest boy has a BA in a great books curriculum. He has never taken a modern math course past HS.

And he makes more money than I do doing complex mortgage risk calculations. His "worthless" degree taught him how to think, which is what I always thought secondary ed was supposed to do.

Posted by: Cass at February 16, 2012 12:19 PM

I have never, ever, *ever* doubted that he will be there for me through thick and thin. That no matter what, he will support me and love me till the end of days, and put me first in everything, just as I strive to do him. Those are the qualities that attracted me to him; that keep me attracted, to this day; that make our marriage the best thing in my life by a long shot.

colagirl, you ignorant slut :)

Don't you know that you're hypergamous? Run along now and let someone who knows how women really think to tell you what you really want ...

*sigh*

Seriously, you sound like one lucky (and smart) lady. The two are probably not unconnected.

Posted by: Cass at February 16, 2012 12:25 PM

According to whom?

Dr. Helen is citing a book of which I've only read reviews, so I'm not sure what his standards are; but he cites philosophy as one of the worthless degrees, and I'm quite sure it's not. If the standard is that there is no math, he doesn't know anything about philosophy; most American philosophy is analytic, which is built around symbolic logic. We share some required courses with the Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science degree programs.

However, there are a number of degrees of dubious value out there. Degrees in journalism or library science represent a kind of professionalization of things you could easily have learned on the job (and for which there appears to be declining interest).

I don't know that I have ever experienced this 'hypergamous tension' you men seem so impressed by :p

I get that. I meant only that, assuming the truth of the hypothesis for the sake of argument, it doesn't lead to the results he seems to predict.

Now, it probably is true that anyone would have a hard time loving someone that they didn't respect. If that's all that the women in the San Francisco group are asserting, it makes perfect sense: of course they want a man they can respect. Who would want to spend time with someone they despised, let alone a lifetime?

Posted by: Grim at February 16, 2012 12:35 PM

Young women who demand a mate who is smarter, better educated, higher earning than they, are (IMO) clueless.

A good match is just that: someone who - broadly speaking - matches you well when your attributes and theirs are taken into account.

There's no difference between these entitled princesses and the clueless twits on PUA sites who demand an 8 or 10 (though they are maybe a 5) and then feel they have to lie, cheat, and act like jackasses to keep their prize from straying.

These people are dysfunctional by definition.

Whether you're male or female, if your entire goal is to continually punch above your weight class for the 60-70 or so years a long marriage entails, I would argue that you are asking for trouble.

Posted by: Cass at February 16, 2012 12:49 PM

So, I wonder, from whence comes such old sayings as, "I want to marry a gal just like Mom", and "She married a man just like her father"?

While I enjoy reading the discussion, I admit this particular subject holds little that applies to me since it was long ago established that I am anything but *normal* (bite your tongue you in the danish bikini over there).... I come from a family where my Mom was 6' tall with broad shoulders and very aristocratic facial features -- a true Amazon among not only the women of her day, but of many men as well. My dad was a slight man of 5'8" with a receeding hairline and thick glasses even in his twenties. Mom was working on her business degree, and Dad was just a lowly airman when they married in 1954. When he passed away a few years ago, they were mere weeks from celebrating their 54th wedding anniversary. MH was a mere LCpl in the street gang known as Uncle Sam's Misguided Children when he asked me to leave my job as a Forest Service firefighter and marry him. I was on my second college while he was busy watching Qaddafi draw his line in the sand. We will celebrate 22 yrs of marriage next month. Hardly an anecdote fit for reference in this discussion.

Posted by: DL Sly at February 16, 2012 12:55 PM

It strikes me how many of these jeremiads focus on the half formed thoughts and desires of disenclued folks who haven't figured out how to get what they want in life.

Inexplicably, that becomes the template for How All Human Beings Are Wired.

Now please excuse me whilst I womanfully strive to suppress my Bad, Hypergamous Nature. For a moment, I lost myself in daydreams of marrying Fabio or Tiger Woods...

Not.

Posted by: Cass at February 16, 2012 01:09 PM

Here's the question, though (and forgive me for perhaps condensing too much): Shouldn't both partners look up to each other? That seems to be what I most-often hear from married folks--that he/she is amazing and that both believe they each got better than they deserved.

Posted by: FbL at February 16, 2012 01:15 PM

I've been married twice in my life. My first wife died from a very rare disease some years ago, and I recently re-married. Now, I think I'm still the same guy, but both women saw/see me in completely different ways.

In fact, based on their comments and thoughts, I'm two completely different men. So what's the old saying about the beholder? That's who I'm going with.

Posted by: Allen at February 16, 2012 01:27 PM

FbL,

I think that's quite right. A man surely wants an inspiration from his love; and a woman surely wants a man she can respect and admire.

Thus, in a sense, they both marry up.

Posted by: Grim at February 16, 2012 01:30 PM

Are Educated Women to Blame for the Declining Marriage Rate?

Blame no. Correlated maybe.

Not for any of the BS reason's Taranto gives, but simply as a matter of trade-offs. If both potential partners are engaging in high-stress, high time-sink activities (whether that be school, work, or hobbies), it would make sense that there's less energy and time to find, form, and maintain relationships. This is no-one's fault. It is likely a very minor consequence (my opinion is that other factors are primarily responsible) of a change that pretty much everyone agrees is beneficial.

That being said:
Coontz has just advised young ladies to marry short, poor, ignorant, obscure, ineffectual men who will help with household chores. If that's not settling, the word has no meaning.

Since when did the relative become absolute? Do all those men with a Masters Degree suddenly become "Ignorant" when they start dating someone with a Doctorate? Does a man who earns $60k become "Poor" when in a relationship with someone who earns 70k? And that's completely leaving aside whether these things can be compared on the same scale. A PhD in Chemistry is not, by definition, smarter than the B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. They are in completely different directions. Each may be smarter than the other in different areas.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 16, 2012 02:18 PM

If both potential partners are engaging in high-stress, high time-sink activities (whether that be school, work, or hobbies), it would make sense that there's less energy and time to find, form, and maintain relationships. This is no-one's fault. It is likely a very minor consequence (my opinion is that other factors are primarily responsible) of a change that pretty much everyone agrees is beneficial.

Logically, this explanation makes far more sense to me than the usual blather about birth control, feminism and no fault divorce ending western civ as we know it.

The logical problem with the whole hypergamy theory is that the very demographic who should be having the hardest time finding mates are the very ones who are getting and staying married.

Hard to explain, that. Oh no... wait! Hypergamy!!! :)

If hypergamy/hypogamy are driving the bus then working class women should have the most opportunity to marry. Most men they meet will be higher earners and higher status than they are, and if men genuinely don't value education or earning power, they'll have the most opportunities if their choices include women who make less and are less educated.

But that's not what's happening. I believe Murray has cited affinitive mating among well educated, affluent couples as an explanation for increasing income inequality.

Similarly if high stress, high timesink activities make forming relationships harder, why are affluent, educated young people the demographic for whom the marriage rate has declined the least?

Posted by: Cass at February 16, 2012 02:54 PM

Since when did the relative become absolute? Do all those men with a Masters Degree suddenly become "Ignorant" when they start dating someone with a Doctorate? Does a man who earns $60k become "Poor" when in a relationship with someone who earns 70k? And that's completely leaving aside whether these things can be compared on the same scale. A PhD in Chemistry is not, by definition, smarter than the B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. They are in completely different directions. Each may be smarter than the other in different areas.

Which is what my spouse said to me when he got his Masters' and I still only had a HS diploma.

He couldn't understand why I was worried that he would outgrow me intellectually. He has always said he thinks I am much smarter than he is. But I'm not. We're roughly equal in intelligence, but he far outstrips me in certain areas and there are areas where he says he feels I outstrip him.

That said, all this talk of stripping is making it hard to concentrate on work.

Posted by: Cass at February 16, 2012 02:58 PM

I do think that considerable problems, in the relationship between the sexes as well is in many aspects of life, are being caused by excessive degree-worship. I guarantee that there are quite a few cases in which a woman with masters degrees in a squishy-soft subject looks down on a potential mate who is (say) a general contractor with a high school diploma, or even a mechanical engineer with "only" a bachelor's degree. What this really is, of course, is just old-time social snobbery with a new arena to play in.

I also agree with you, Cass (and others) that a degree program doesn't have to be scientific/mathematical in order to be valuable. As a witness I will call the management consultant Dr Michael Hammer, with his thoughts on liberal education for business.

Posted by: david foster at February 16, 2012 03:17 PM

Similarly if high stress, high timesink activities make forming relationships harder, why are affluent, educated young people the demographic for whom the marriage rate has declined the least?

But it has declined.

It very well may be that those *other* factors tend to hit different segments of the population disproportionately. That is, education may have a positive effect in regard to those other factors even if it is a detrimental effect on that one factor.

That is, when both partners are highly educated it may be harder to find time and energy to form and keep relationships, but when they do they don't do it with lazy scumbags.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 16, 2012 03:18 PM

I don't think my wife has ever viewed disparity in education as something to be afraid of, precisely because our strengths are in such different areas. She has no patience for intellectual or political discussion; and although she attended both college and grad school, in both cases these were in fine arts programs that focused on practical skills rather than intellectual development. (A noteworthy exception: art history, which ends up teaching you a fair amount about history generally.)

However, she can pick up a piece of wood or a glob of mud and turn it into anything she wants. She can craft stained glass, draw perfect illustrations, construct jewelry, repair broken things so well you'd never know they'd been broken, create beautiful paintings, sew her own dresses, carve a sculpture from wood or make one from bronze.

It's the most amazing thing in the world. I couldn't do that stuff in my dreams.

Posted by: Grim at February 16, 2012 03:19 PM

Cass, technical question:

When we are talking about the "marriage rate" in the context of college-educated women, are we talking about the "never married v. married" rate, or the "get and stay married" rate?

It would seem plausible to me that college-educated women might be both more likely to never marry (because they have a greater capacity for financial independence), but to stay married if they do marry (because people who finish advanced degrees are self-selected for a certain ability to delay gratification).

By the same token, working class people might be forced to accept a marriage they don't really want for financial reasons, which could lead to a divorce once the situation improves (or simply becomes intolerable); and there may be a higher percentage of people with less capacity to delay gratification.

So, is that what we're talking about? Or is the marriage rate higher just in the sense that college-educated women are more likely to marry period?

Posted by: Grim at February 16, 2012 03:28 PM

When we are talking about the "marriage rate" in the context of college-educated women, are we talking about the "never married v. married" rate, or the "get and stay married" rate?

Well, it depends on the age group but remember that the opening lines of Taranto's post specifically mentioned young women.

1. Never married vs. married: depends on the age bracket

[Coontz]By 2008, the percentage of college-educated white women ages 55 to 59 who had never been married was down to 9 percent, just 3 points higher than their counterparts without college degrees. And among women 35 to 39, there was no longer any difference in the percentage who were married.

[Pew} The decline in marriage rates has been steepest for the least educated, especially men, and smallest for college graduates, especially women. College graduates, the highest earners, are more likely today to be married than are Americans with less education — 69% for adults with a college degree versus 56% for those who are not a college graduate.

That was not the case in 1970, when all education groups were about equally likely to wed. Among college-educated men, 88% were married in 1970, compared with 86% of men without a college education. Among women, the comparable 1970 figures were 82% and 83%.


2. Get and stay married:

[Coontz] college-educated women, once they do marry, are much less likely to divorce. As a result, by age 30, and especially at ages 35 and 40, college-educated women are significantly more likely to be married than any other group.

You may find this interesting too:

[Pew}Nearly one-in-five American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with one-in-ten in the 1970s. While childlessness has risen for all racial and ethnic groups, and most education levels, it has fallen over the past decade for women with advanced degrees.

Links:

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/01/19/women-men-and-the-new-economics-of-marriage/

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/06/25/childlessness-up-among-all-women-down-among-women-with-advanced-degrees/

Posted by: Cass at February 16, 2012 03:53 PM

Thank you. Those statistics suggest that there are several mutually reinforcing benefits for society, then: well-educated women are more likely to marry, more likely to stay married, and more likely to have children. Presumably their education is also of benefit to their children; and we certainly have strong reasons to believe that children from two parent families that do not divorce have a number of advantages.

The Pew graphs make clear that the change isn't nearly as striking as these articles make it sound; for the bulk of families (52% in 1970, 53% in 2007) the education level is the same.

Posted by: Grim at February 16, 2012 04:02 PM

I married mrs. rdr because I was madly in love with her and figured that being married to her was a pretty good way to spend the rest of my life. I don't know what she was thinking when she said "yes," but I sure as hell hope it wasn't about "hypergamy," unless that includes being handy with a wrench.

Posted by: spd rdr - shorter, poorer, and ignoranter, than before becoming married at February 16, 2012 04:05 PM

Grim:

This has more detail:

White women who complete college remain slightly less likely to marry than most other white women, although they are now more likely to marry than women who never finished high school. At age 40, the time after which sociologists have traditionally considered a never-married woman a lifelong single, 86 percent of college-educated white women have married, compared to 90 percent of women with some college, 88 percent of high school graduates, and 81 percent of high school dropouts.


http://www.contemporaryfamilies.org/marriage-partnership-divorce/marriagemyths.html

I think there are several separate points that (in my mind) were confused in the pieces I linked in my post:

1. College educated women are more likely to marry today than they were in the past.

2. They are slightly less likely to marry by age 40 than women with only some college.

3. But after 40, their prospects of marrying are better than those of less educated women.

4. At age 40, college-educated white women are MORE likely to be married than any other group of women. That's because the divorce rates of college-educated women have dropped so much that those who do marry are far more likely to still be married at age 40 than their less-educated counterparts.

So here's what I see:

College women marry later, divorce less often, and have a longer "shelf life", if you will.

Interestingly, I grew up in a middle class home and graduated from a tony upper class prep school. My classmates married and had kids a good 10-20 years later than I did. Many of their children are the same age as my grandkids!

I've observed this class pattern for decades.

Posted by: Cass at February 16, 2012 04:05 PM

On somewhat of a tangent, these trends that people are becoming less likely to marry while simultaneously high income earners are becoming more likely to marry each other are the major causes of the highly publicized increase in income inequality.

The BLS statistics that everyone references are the *household* income distributions. The individual income distribution is more skewed than the distribution of couple's income because of the effects of averaging. If more households are composed of singles then the household distribution moves closer to the individual distribution. Similarly if higher income people start forming more households together and lower income people start forming more households together the household distribution also becomes more skewed. Do them both and the skewing compounds. And this can happen without a single person making any more or less than they did before.

Obviously, the solution to this is for the gov't to assign you a spouse, abolish divorce and make adultery a felony.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 16, 2012 04:14 PM

I don't know what she was thinking when she said "yes," but I sure as hell hope it wasn't about "hypergamy," unless that includes being handy with a wrench.

Silly humans and their delusions of free will.

You probably think you chose that chicken sandwich you ate for lunch too.

Posted by: Bonzo the Hypogamous Chimp at February 16, 2012 04:16 PM

Can we, er, 'grandfather' in existing spouses?

Posted by: Grim at February 16, 2012 04:17 PM

...these trends that people are becoming less likely to marry while simultaneously high income earners are becoming more likely to marry each other are the major causes of the highly publicized increase in income inequality.

That's the point I keep trying to make. :)

Posted by: Bonzo the Hypogamous Chimp at February 16, 2012 04:19 PM

You expect me to remember something from 3 years ago?

Good Lord woman! I have small kids in the house! If I hadn't had leftovers for lunch I wouldn't remember what I had for dinner last night. :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 16, 2012 04:37 PM

Grim,

What you do in your existing spouse is a private matter and not an important public policy issue. :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 16, 2012 04:42 PM

And I thought the comment I decided against posting earlier was heading off in the wrong direction...

Posted by: The Wizzerd of Izz at February 16, 2012 05:04 PM

I have really missed you guys. Just sayin' :)

Posted by: Bonzo the Hypogamous Chimp at February 16, 2012 05:13 PM

My husband is undeniably taller and stronger than I am. In the intelligence department, however, we have what I consider the perfect marriage: I'm convinced he's smarter than I am; he's convinced I'm smarter than he is.


None of which is why I married him, however. I love him for any number of reasons but I married him because he's the most decent human being I know. Far more decent that I am - does that count as hypergamy?

(Really, really, really glad you're back, Cassandra. Really.)

Posted by: Elise at February 16, 2012 05:30 PM

I love him for any number of reasons but I married him because he's the most decent human being I know. Far more decent that I am - does that count as hypergamy?

Absolutely. The very best kind.

I've always thought the reason we ladies have the reputation of marrying up is that the guys we marry truly are princes.

And no, I'm not kidding. What a wonderful world with so many good men in it.

Posted by: Cass at February 16, 2012 06:47 PM

Hypergamy and decency...reminds me of something.

In the German made-for-tv movie "Dresden," the leading character, Anna, is a nurse working in her father's hospital during WWII. She is engaged to a young doctor in that same hospital.

Anna discovers that her father and her fiance are conspiring to steal morphine from the hospital and sell it on the black market in order to raise money so that the whole family...including Anna...can escape to Switzerland and have a much better chance of surviving the war. She is horrified and immediately loses respect and attraction for her fiance.

Strong-form hypergamy theory, as I understand it, would say that this scenario is highly unlikely and that much more probably Anna would feel a surge of attraction and desire for her fiance since he had demonstrated the willingness to be utterly ruthless toward others in order to protect her.

Posted by: david foster at February 16, 2012 08:15 PM

YAG:

I do seem to recall your saying something like that yesterday, yes.

Mr. Foster:

Any form of the hypergamy theory would recognize social prestige as one of the factors to be considered (indeed, it is the chief factor in many species). Being married to a thief and a traitor is surely an unattractive proposition for a lot of people: those aren't qualities that are normally considered to be prestigious.

I think Cass has done a very convincing job of showing that Mr. Taranto's explanation doesn't hold at all, and that in fact families may be strongest where women are most highly educated. However, it's not obviously foolish to say that human beings 'want to marry up' in some sense -- of course you want to marry a person with good qualities rather than bad ones, one you respect and admire rather than one you despise.

Surely, at least that far, the theory isn't even controversial; what ought to be controversial is the attempt to reduce "good qualities rather than bad ones" to a simple calculation involving education, wealth, height, and the other few things that Mr. Taranto and others include. Some of those things are shallow, and others (like education and intelligence) are not, but they clearly don't adequately capture the picture of what we find good and praiseworthy in the people we love.

Posted by: Grim at February 16, 2012 08:55 PM

Cass,

I think you may have missed Taranto's point. It's right there in the title, "A Feminist and a Social Conservative Try to Play Cupid."

Readers shouldn't get wrapped around the axle looking for a cogent thesis, Taranto is exploring ideas with Bennett and Coontz.

That said, his main idea is right there in a stand-alone sentence, five paragraphs down, "Today's young, educated women can find jobs with relative ease. Finding a husband is a different story."

Do you dispute that?

You've been married or together for 35 years and, if I'm reading you correctly, it was before your higher ed. I can tell you that that Taranto's statement rings true for many women today. He bandies around some other folks' ideas on why that may be, even using Coontz to play devil's advocate.

If marriage and career came easily for you and some of your commenters, that's terrific! But, you should know that is NOT easy for a many women out there. I suspect that an adult Cass (in her late 20s or early 30s) would have a much harder time finding her mate than High School/Collegiate Cass did.

MG

Posted by: Mark at February 16, 2012 09:25 PM

Grim..."it's not obviously foolish to say that human beings 'want to marry up' in some sense -- of course you want to marry a person with good qualities rather than bad ones"....agreed. If the theory of hypergamy is defined this broadly, though, it is practically tautological. When it's defined more narrowly, though, it can indeed become reductionistic to the point of missing much specifically-human behavior.

Regarding status: in the movie, Anna's sister is having an affair with a local Nazi official, who would of course be a high-status individual in this environment. Anna herself, though, doesn't show any attraction to people of this sort, indicating an ability to tune her status-sensing ability to internal values rather than just to externally-defined social values.

Posted by: david foster at February 16, 2012 09:31 PM

Mark:

Please see my responses inline with your comments:

his main idea is right there in a stand-alone sentence, five paragraphs down, "Today's young, educated women can find jobs with relative ease. Finding a husband is a different story."

Few experienced writers bury their main thesis 5 paragraphs into an essay, but I agree that it's quite possible I missed his point.

Do I dispute that educated women have trouble finding men to marry? Yes, given that (as I've pointed out many times here) educated women are the one demographic who are most likely to get and stay married. The marriage rate tells us exactly nothing about how many women seek marriage but don't find it.

All we know is that marriage is in decline, yet educated women are getting and staying married (and more of them are having children, proportionally). So yes - I do dispute your assertion.

If marriage and career came easily for you and some of your commenters, that's terrific! But, you should know that is NOT easy for a many women out there

First of all, at the time I got married there was zero educational disparity between myself and my husband. That came AFTER we married. So the notion that I married up socially isn't accurate. We started on par, he advanced, and I caught up later.

That marriage and career are difficult for "some" women is not something I have disputed. What I specifically took issue with here was this statement:

As Charles Murray shows in his new book, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010," marriage has declined much less sharply among the educated and affluent than among the so-called working class. But it has still declined, and it can be expected to decline more absent a reversal of the trend toward greater female education and accomplishment.

As most writers do, I stated my main point up front. That's a standard formula: tell 'em what you're about to tell em', make your argument, then tell 'em what you just told them.

You seem to be overlooking facts that contradict the notion that educated women are having a harder time than less educated women finding mates. I'm not sure why that is, but if you care to explain I'll be happy to respond.

Posted by: Cass at February 16, 2012 09:40 PM

David:

"Marrying up" is commonly understood to mean something akin to "marrying above your station in life". Traditionally, women traded youth, beauty and sex appeal for what I can only call more enduring qualities.

Is it any surprise that a woman who truly "marries up" is entering a marriage where her contribution is a wasting asset and his is one that increases over time?

That doesn't strike me as particularly smart or foresighted a strategy if you're in it for the long term. But then we ladies are widely supposed to be bad at calculations (when we're not being accused of being mercenary and calculating, that is) :p

Posted by: Cass at February 16, 2012 09:45 PM

Strong-form hypergamy theory, as I understand it, would say that this scenario is highly unlikely and that much more probably Anna would feel a surge of attraction and desire for her fiance since he had demonstrated the willingness to be utterly ruthless toward others in order to protect her.

Agreed (that the theory would posit this, that is).

My own experience is that women are less sensitive to external threats than men. So a young or naive woman might wonder , "If he'll lie or steal in this context, can I trust him to be honest in our marriage?"

I'm not sure that's entirely fair. People do things in survival situations that they would not countenance in less drastic circumstances and men, being protectors, are more likely to have to compromise their values.

I'm just not impressed with the hypergamy hype. People who like broad brush characterizations or simple answers love this sort of thing because simplistic answers help them explain messy and complicated realities.

Women and men have different foibles. I've noticed that men tend to 'systemize' human interaction, especially when it gets complicated and they don't want to deal with it. But human beings aren't an organized system with predictable rules. We're not particles in physics.

Yes, men (or women) have some similarities in the aggregate but these are mostly useful when you're dealing with a man or woman about whom you know little or nothing. Like stereotypes, they can provide limited insight into an unknown quantity.

But if you're dealing with an individual you can get to know as a person (and who is more complex than a simplistic stereotype could ever be) why on earth wouldn't you try to understand that person rather than relying on general rules of thumb that don't apply across the board?

Posted by: Cass at February 16, 2012 09:54 PM

We're not particles in physics.

Oh, I don't know... Heisenburg's uncertainty principle seems to apply when attempting to predict what a woman will do... :p

Posted by: Pogue at February 17, 2012 08:54 AM

I had a girlfriend in college who named her cat Heisenberg. (No, she was not a physics major)

Posted by: david foster at February 17, 2012 09:17 AM

At least it wasn't Schrödinger.

Posted by: Grim at February 17, 2012 09:20 AM

Grim,
*hands leg back*

Sorry, didn't expect it to come off in my hand.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 17, 2012 09:58 AM

Well, I have long maintained that the plural of "anecdote" is not "data", but I can only ever speak from personal experience. I married up. In every category that a sociologist can measure.

While dating, I was a 23 year old E-4 in the Army with a High School Degree and some college credits. She was a 26 (2.5 years older than I) year old environmental engineer with a hard science degree from MIT (as if they offered any "soft science" degrees there). However, since being married, I've gotten a BS in Computer Science, and (due to her illnesses) have become the sole earner in the family. So from a strictly sociological standpoint, I guess I was expected to leave her? Fat chance.

We're approaching our 16th anniversary this year. And barring her turning out to have been a deep cover spy all these years, I can't really think of any potential cause for that to end. So what is it? Is she a slacker? Was I the hottest man on the planet who could cause her hypergamous brain to shut down due to the overwhelming lust I inspired (here's a hint: no)? Or is it more likely that *gasp* one size fits all statements about relationships are ridiculous from the start?

Oh and Cass, yeah... you nailed Taranto to the wall here. But then again, that doesn't surprise me. I'm only surprised he'd say something that blatantly self-contradictory. He's normally much more thoughtful than that.

Posted by: MikeD at February 17, 2012 10:06 AM

I'm a bit late returning to the party, but...

If we do agree that marriage partners what to be able to look up to each other, then I think there is something to the idea that a certain class of women are having a very hard time finding partners. In the younger generation of adult females, the kind of high-achieving women who value advanced education are outnumbering the men. This is even showing up in the big cities now, with more young women employed at good-paying jobs than men. At the same time, there is a strong contingent of men who are choosing a bit of an extended adolescence (video games, hookups, etc). It would seem then, that if you're a high-achieving woman in your twenties who is looking for someone who has even more education and drive, the choices are slimmer than they were just 10 or 15 years ago.

It's all about values--if you're "hypergamous," it depends on what value you're looking for that defines hypergamous. So for a segment of young women out there, their values are pricing them out of the market, yes?

Posted by: FbL at February 17, 2012 10:23 AM

OK, back to being serious. I don't think the data necessarily disproves the assertion that increasing education decreases marriage rates. Forgive the statistician for bring math to the discussion, but for those so inclined, try this in Excel:

Z = Marriage Rate
X = Education Level
Y = Other factors (say, instant gratification)

Z = -0.5X + -5Y + 100 with the constraint that X+Y

In this case, Education levels have a negative effect on marriage rates because we have defined it to be so. Yet the average marriage rate within each education level actually increases. This is because the two variables are not independent. Those with high educations tend to be much better than those with lower educations at delaying gratification, a factor which is 10 times more detrimental.

Does the data support this hypothesis? I've no idea. I'm just saying that it isn't logically impossible for Education level to have a negative effect on marriage rates while at the same time those with higher education enjoy the highest rates compared with everyone else. "All else being equal" rarely is.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 17, 2012 10:54 AM

My nice isn't even 30 - graduated with honors in college, went to night school to get her MBA - is now working for a major retail store (at headquarters of course) - married with baby on the way.

A lot of men are understandably gun shy about marriage given the draconian laws in community property states. There are women who play the system it seems.

But then it works both ways.

A female friend of mine, never married into her late 40s, married a 3x divorced man who "swept her off her feet" (can women think with the little head too? )

The man was a player and soon started badgering her to put his name to all of her financial accounts (she was making 6 figures as a real estate salesman).

Well the inevitable came and he cleaned her out.

So if people are hesitant about marriage there are reasons besides education as the reason.

Posted by: Bill Brandt at February 17, 2012 11:21 AM

I love looking up to people, including men, but I'm a little befuddled by the idea that I'd look up to a degree or a job title. I must be a more fundamental snob than most of these formulations assume of the average person. I make up my own mind about whether someone is smart, thoughtful, or usefully skilled, on the basis of conversation and personal interaction. The ability to think creatively and independently is so important to me that I insist on detecting it in a potential mate by my own standards.

I think Cassandra was right on target in observing that a mate's earning power is far more important for a woman who could scarcely expect to earn anything herself. Growing up with different expectations, it never occurred to me to consider such a thing. I wanted an ally I could trust, someone who wanted to make a home with me, someone who could hold my interest (and not by quoting from his resume or throwing a football).

From hearing old stories and reading old books, I get the impression that it used to be a common problem for men to attach themselves to women who made them feel inadequate mentally. In only a few decades, that seems to have stopped troubling so many men that I can only conclude it was a transient cultural hiccup rather than some kind of innate biological disability on men's part. I'm guessing that any need of women to "marry up" may prove equally circumstantial and ephemeral.

I really thought better of Taranto than to have drawn the broad conclusions he did from that little twit Weiner's scurrilous internal life. Seriously? He had to become a flasher because he couldn't be honest about his deep-seated need for a wifey he could lord it over? And this is biologically predetermined for all men, not just the occasional emotional cripple?

Posted by: Texan99 at February 17, 2012 11:36 AM

I thought long and hard (heh... she said... oh, nevermind!) about whether I should write about this or not.

The whole "men aren't doing well/feminism has ruined both men's and women's lives/1-800-WAAAAAAH!" shtick is obviously one that bothers me for a whole host of reasons that aren't the obvious one (i.e., that I have some need to defend feminism after having mocked it for the last 7 years).

In fact, what bugs me most about this shtick is the way it insults and infantilizes men! If you look at my post, the three statements I had the most heartburn with were:

1. Marriage will continue to decline unless the trend of increasing female achievement/education is reversed. Why would this be?

2. Anthony Weiner is a pathetic jackass because men (in their secret hearts) don't *really* want to marry smart women, and if culture forces them to go against their worst instincts they will act out in juvenile and irresponsible ways. Whatever happened to character and personal responsibility? What about accountability? Are we going to throw those out the window?

3. Smart women who choose men based on their character rather than income/alpha qualities are "settling" for (in Taranto' words) "short, poor, ignorant, obscure, ineffectual men who will help with household chores".

Wow. Just wow. Why is it OK for a man to say that? It just drips contempt. Is this what conservatives really think of good men?

The reason I keep coming back to this subject over the years is that I am absolutely appalled (appalled, I tell you!) to see so many conservatives making the implicit argument that men are wimpy, whiny twits who - if women won't let them win and massage their egos 24/7 whether they deserve it or not - will stay in their parents' basements playing video games and watching porn?

I think more of men than that. I raised two boys and yes - I was far harder on them than most of their friends' parents. And they have both exceeded my high expectations. Men can do that, and WILL do it. And we should not subject them to what GWB so eloquently called the soft bigotry of low expections. They deserve better from us.

Posted by: Cass at February 17, 2012 12:00 PM

That and if women were to systematically marry the way Taranto suggests isn't settling, then isn't it the men who are marrying "short, poor, ignorant, obscure, ineffectual women who will help with household chores"?

Yep, that sounds like an attractive woman to me! /sarc

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 17, 2012 12:38 PM

I really thought better of Taranto than to have drawn the broad conclusions he did from that little twit Weiner's scurrilous internal life. Seriously? He had to become a flasher because he couldn't be honest about his deep-seated need for a wifey he could lord it over? And this is biologically predetermined for all men, not just the occasional emotional cripple?

I was surprised, too. I've read him for years, on and off, and have usually found his writing well reasoned and insightful.

Lately he seem to be on a tear about feminists, though. It's been a very noticeable departure from his usual calm, unflappable style. This was actually the 3rd in a series of posts about women working, going to school, etc. and how that has hurt men...and women... and pretty much everything. If only we could limit all this troublesome freedom so people didn't make choices we disapprove of :p

This is a fairly popular meme in the blogosphere. I don't get the logic, though. When feminists were complaining that schools weren't "girl friendly" enough and that explained the gender performance gap, conservatives (myself included) rightly ridiculed the argument. My position was, "Look - school is school. It doesn't need to be girl friendly - it just needs to be academically rigorous and YOU need to study as hard as you need to, to pass kiddo."

Now that boys are underperforming, though, conservatives are weeping, wailing and gnashing their teeth about how "un boy-friendly" society is, how it damages boys' self esteem and everybody needs to stop what they're doing and help boys succeed or else they'll never move out of the basement and get lives of their own. Really?

There are two possible interpretations here:

1. There really *was* something to the feminist complaint about girls being discouraged by a culture that plainly didn't value female achievement. The converse of this would be that there really IS something to boy being discouraged by a culture that no longer views them as top dogs.

Personally, I think there may be *something* to the theory. But I also think we make tougher, more resilient kids when we teach them not to be victims who are defined by other people's expectations.

2. Alternatively, girls didn't excel in school b/c no one was pressuring them to back then. And boys aren't doing well in school now b/c these days everyone makes excuses for them when they refuse to try. They're not lazy - it's those durned Feminists and their evil mind control rays.

I like this explanation better. It fits what I saw with my own sons and what I've seen with other people' kids: parents and teachers with high expectations tend to produce kids who excel.

Posted by: Cass at February 17, 2012 01:27 PM

Might I offer a third possibility?

3) We now expect all children regardless of gender to behave in the exact same manner (and I'm not talking about holding them to the same standard), and those that fail to conform to that standard are medicated as they must have a "disorder" of some manner.

Believe me, I'm not saying it's a plot by the pharmaceutical industry. And I'm not saying that ADD/ADHD is fake. I'm ADD as hell. And I DID settle down some when I was medicated. But I also was not myself. I could sit still in a classroom for the entire period, and focus on my work. But I lost a great deal of creativity while medicated as well. And why would it be surprising that when you mess with the brain chemistry of a child, unintended consequences could occur? Thankfully, I was taken off the medication and I learned other methods to cope with it.

Boys are not girls, and do not behave like they do. And by the same token, girls are not boys and should not be expected to behave like them. NOT THAT THERE'S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THE WAY BOYS AND GIRLS BEHAVE! (*grrr*) Yes, put rules in place. YES, hold them to standards (and equal ones at that). If a boy is fidgety and not paying attention, MAKE HIM (or get him help if he really can't control it). Don't just slide him a pill and think "well that will fix him up". If a girl is not getting the math and science (whether out of a lack of interest or aptitude) get her help! Don't just throw up your hands and say "math and science must be sexist" NOR say "girls just aren't good at it". Both of those responses are dumb!

Posted by: MikeD at February 17, 2012 02:50 PM

I'm pretty sure that I probably had borderline ADD as a child. One of my boys did, too. In my case it may not be so much ADD as too many aptitudes. I always wonder how many kids who are diagnosed with ADHD really just have too many (and too widely scattered) aptitudes?

We resisted having our son tested b/c I didn't want him labeled. The way I looked at it, he needed to work harder at sitting still and focusing just as some kids need to work harder at math, others at socializing, others at sports.

Most kids have no natural desire to work hard and don't do so unless encouraged to. But it's probably the most valuable skill a child can learn.

Posted by: Cass at February 17, 2012 04:35 PM

Most kids have no natural desire to work hard and don't do so unless encouraged to.

Heh.

Posted by: spd rdr - shorter, poorer, and ignoranter, than before becoming married at February 17, 2012 04:46 PM

The reason I keep coming back to this subject over the years is that I am absolutely appalled (appalled, I tell you!) to see so many conservatives making the implicit argument that men are wimpy, whiny twits who - if women won't let them win and massage their egos 24/7 whether they deserve it or not - will stay in their parents' basements playing video games and watching porn?

Bingo! I don't understand this either. I just don't get the argument that men are so fragile they need constant adulation in order to function.

Posted by: Elise at February 17, 2012 04:59 PM

Hmmm... spd sounds like he could use some incorrig... err... encouragement! :)

Me either, Elise.

There are folks on both sides of the Gender Wars who want to embrace the victimhood and get the preferential treatment, but don't you dare imply that they can't compete without help! :p

Posted by: Cass at February 17, 2012 05:15 PM

Oh great, she's gets a bingo card, too?
*scuffs ground with foot*
Maaannnnn.

Posted by: Snarkammando at February 17, 2012 05:37 PM

I was led to believe there would be no math on this blog.

Romantic love is a late model feature that is now supposed to be a percursor to marriage/ Why people get married and stay married is sometimes a real mystery. It makes me very sad to see our society fall apart, and I think that Taranto's article is supposed to be some mini-diagnosis as to why our society is falling apart.

This is a little bit different than Charles Murray's book, but it is only an article in a newspaper, and tomorrow, even though it is the WSJ, it is likely to be lining the cat litter box, or be in the trash.

Educational differentiation is chimera for probably something deeper, which is how our so-called society is now structured, and how people meet people. A lot of the old social institutions (such as church and a network of extended family and friends) is gone, and normal women and men (who are not hypersexual bar flies) have a hard time finding someone normal to complete their lives.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at February 19, 2012 07:55 PM

I wonder about that, too, Don, when I hear people say it's hard to meet a mate. I didn't have a church or much of a family connection within which to meet young men. I didn't meet my husband in school, either, though I did meet him in a big, rambling communal house that had started out at student housing and turned into more of a post-graduate young-adult group with some loose educational connections. Quite a handful of us paired up there for life.

All it really seems to take is proximity and some time to see how someone is in real life (i.e., not in a bar or the Internet equivalent). That, in turn, requires some casual social life of the kind I should think we could all find in clubs, volunteer work, churches, neighborhood parties, and the like. You find out how he acts in a group, how hard he works, whether he's honest, how interested he is, how he handles his liquor, what he has to say after he's exhausted his usual opening spiel (if he's that sort), how he handles setbacks.

Posted by: Texan99 at February 20, 2012 10:26 AM

I've always considered the old saying about how you can tell a lot about a man by how they treat their waitress and how they deal with untangling Christmas lights to be very sage (no rosemary or thyme, though) advice.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at February 20, 2012 01:41 PM

I treat my waitresses like people who may have just spent 3 hours trying to untangle $6.48 worth of Christmas lights. What does that say about me?

Posted by: spd rdr - at February 21, 2012 10:59 AM

That you aren't suicidal?
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at February 21, 2012 12:23 PM

I've always considered the old saying about how you can tell a lot about a man by how they treat their waitress and how they deal with untangling Christmas lights to be very sage (no rosemary or thyme, though) advice.

Something very similar to that convinced my grandmother to marry my grandfather. They met on a golf course. And while my grandmother joked that he only played golf with her as an excuse to put his arms around her (to help with her swing, of course!), she DID use the event to find out what kind of man he was. She asked his caddy in private. "Oh, he's a good tipper and is never rude." Apparently, that was a good recommendation.

Posted by: MikeD at February 21, 2012 01:55 PM

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