Arnold Kling  

Women Won't Marry Down

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So Kay Hymowitz asserts.


the biggest reason we probably won't see a lot more college-educated women walking down the aisle with their plumber is one we don't like to say out loud: they want to have smart kids. Educated men and women are drawn to spouses they think will help them produce the children likely to thrive in the contemporary knowledge-based economy. That means high IQ, ambitious, and organized kids who will do their homework and take a lot of AP courses.

As she points out, this serves to increase inequality. My guess is that it is a far more important driver of inequality than any government policy or lack thereof.


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CATEGORIES: Income Distribution



COMMENTS (22 to date)
Emerson White writes:

I agree, this is a much better explanation than anything I've come across before.

Incuhed writes:

The premise is implying that somehow men married down in the past and are even more prone to than women would, all else equal. We can probably agree that men value physical appearence with greater weight than women, but how do we know the George Baileys and Stepford Wife suitors of their day weren't attracted to intelligence? Females didn't suddenly become smart and capable of earning higher incomes than men through some recent cosmic force - they've always had the potential. Culturally they weren't able to in the past, so dont mistake secretary or housewife for simpleton, given the constraints. This trend towards more inequality in intelligence may be hardly new.

Moreover, who is to say that these ever evolving social classes of intellegence and education will cause more inequality on an income basis? I can only laugh at the fact that all the 'plumbers' and other tradesmen I know are married to college educated women and make more money than my masters-educated rump.

CBBB writes:

What are you talking about? College education is an expensive ticket to the unemployment line. The hypothetical plumber is probably making 10 times what the hypothetical college graduate is making.
So the women wants smart kids who do their homework, go to college and wind up working at Starbucks for minimum wage?

CBBB writes:

Also it's a pretty bad explanation of inequality. The best explanation involves out sized rewards to the financial sector over other sectors of the economy.
The growth in inequality is not merely between college graduates and non-college graduates. It's occurring WITHIN these groups.
Pretty sloppy Kling.

Pandaemoni writes:

I don't think women (or anyone) in general "decides" who to marry based on the traits that person will pass on to offspring. People may decide who to marry based on traits they believe will make them happy...and that emotional satisfaction may be indirectly colored by traits that happen to be desirable in children. Certainly you will never hear, "Well, I wasn't going to fall in love with you, but now I see that you are smarter than I thought, so I will."

I am not even sure that women are as attracted to intelligence as they are to other traits, like physical fitness or height. It's certainly a plus to a certain extent, but if you look at who women swoon over, you will see very few scientists, philosophers and other thinkers on that list. You will see Usher, Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Ryan Reynold's names on that list (who may be very smart, for all I know, but that is not why they made the list).

In fact, who's to say that plumbers are stupid? Plumbers lack a formal education, by and large, but I know many stupid people with a long list of credentials. I am not sure that the intellectual gulf is as vast as this suggests, on average, taking all college graduates into account.

Just as likely college-educated women prefer college-educated men based on (i) a commonality of interests and (ii) they find themselves surrounded by more college-educated men than they do plumbers. I've seen a lot of bankers marrying other bankers, but I don't assume it's part of a plan to have the most financially astute kids possible. Same goes for lawyers: they are disproportionately likely to marry other lawyers.

I certainly hope that any plumbers that visit Ms. Hymowitz's home are aware that she things they are her intellectual inferiors.

D writes:

This was the argument made quite some time ago in the much hated but excellent book The Bell Curve. Cognitive stratification as a source of increasing inequality.

JKB writes:

Far more likely that Miss College isn't frequenting the same places as Mr. Plumber. And if she does met Mr. Plumber, it is early in his career where even if he's opened his own business, he is poor as most small business owners are at the start.

And, of course, Miss College would have to explain to her college friends what her beau does for a living. So she'll pass due to social pressure. The difference in life experiences will make for difficult integration of Mr. Plumber into her friends group.

So unless Mr. Plumber is the long lost high school sweetheart of Miss College and she is the independent sort, then the mingling required before marriage is a pretty low probability. A far more likely hypothesis than Miss College wants "smart" kids.

jc writes:

Re: the importance of a man's looks...

Women care about looks too. They may prioritize different physical attributes, though, like height.

(I'm sure we all know about the litany of height studies, including those that control for height correlates such as economic success. And there are the less scientific, humorous studies, too, such as the one where the short guy's description kept getting better - he's a best selling author, a champion skier, a multimillionaire by 29, nice to his mom - while the tall guy kept getting worse, with him having to be a child molester before some would pick the short guy over him. Or the elementary school kids assigning words like strong, handsome and so forth to the tall outline of a man and words like weak, scared, sad, stupid, friendless to the short man.)

Still, point taken.

Re: choosing (or not choosing) mates on the basis of future children's attributes...

A lot of this is subconscious. Like the desire to mate being a more effective way to prod us to produce offspring than a direct desire for offspring.

CBBB writes:

JKB has it right.
This post is just another example of the sloppy posts on this blog trying to shoehorn their own ideological opinions into some social observations.

Gasaprd writes:

Men are not that likely to marry down either. This "yuppie strategy" was already noted by Barbara Ehrenreich in the late 80s in "Fear of Falling". Also Elizabeth Warren's "two income trap" to an extent.

Tracy W writes:

"I married beneath me. All women do." - Lady Nancy Astor.

Actually personally I married for the free IT support.

Jack writes:

Game/PUA suggests otherwise.

Shangwen writes:

I've seen this idea advocated before. I also agree with JKB and CBBB.

Extending that, I know a number of educated women married to educated men, who remark only half-jokingly that they would have been better off had they married tradesmen or--the group most derided by those with doctorates--men who "only have a bachelor's".

Douglass Holmes writes:

JKB has a point, but why should an educated woman care so much about the opinion of her friends? There are a lot of sublte ways in which we encourage our peers to conform, and in the case of choosing mates, I believe that women expect their friends to conform to the norm of restricting mates to certain classes.

Regarding Inchued's points, I don't know if it is appropriate to say "marrying up" or "marrying down" but I do believe that women are more risk averse than men. Thus, women are more likely to marry someone that they (and their friends) consider a safe bet. Men are more likely to take a risk. Until the advent of reliable birth control, women had plenty of reason to be more risk averse: they were taking a pretty big risk in marrying. Not so much now, but some aspects of culture change rather slowly. And, yes, men have always been attracted to intelligent women. It's just that nowadays the intelligent women are more likely to have their own careers.

Mike Rulle writes:

Doesn't that mean men marry down? Isn't there a cancelling effect? :-)

Mark A. Sadowski writes:

Actually this does very little to explain the rising inequality since the late 1970s. For one thing the premium attached to higher education over secondary education ceased growing in the last decade. Furthermore, almost all of the massive shift in income has gone to the top 1% or those with household incomes in excess of $400,000 a year.

Skills Based technical Change explains only a tiny portion of the inequality picture. Those with incomes in the top 1% are no better educated than the next 4% but their incomes are magnitudes greater. This is less a story about the Albert Einsteins leaving the rest of the population in the dust than the Donald Trumps.

Chris T writes:

Selective pressures (both social and biological) along mental lines are hardly limited to women and have been active far longer than the past half century. What has changed is the removal of a lot of arbitrary barriers to social mobility over the last couple of centuries. The biological sorting had already happened to a significant extent, but could not be reflected socially until recently.

Note that this only explains the lower rate of social movement between quintiles compared to the mid-20th. It cannot explain the extreme concentration of wealth in a small percentage of the population (as Mark noted).

Gold Digger writes:

(grinning) After reading this post I just realized that, as I became more educated and achieved higher levels of financial independence, my dates became taller and taller... And my last few dates were all taller than me. Finally, I married someone that is not only taller than me, but also very smart...

And, surpriiise, I'm a short man! X)

Max writes:

Women should be informed that hard work is a greater indicator of wealth than intelligence. A hard working plumber probably does a lot better financially than many smart college educated people.

tracy w writes:

Max - the real question is what is a better indicator of top quality IT support?

pandaemoni writes:

tracy w — using that standard, one would think that the number of Cheetos stains on one's t-shirt would be positively correlated with success in finding a mate.

Joe Cushing writes:

I think you people put too much weight selection based on height. I'm 6'5" tall, and in decent shape but I don't have to beat the ladies off with a stick.

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