A New York Times op-ed, "The M.R.S. and the Ph.D" sparked a conversation among The Daily Circuit team last week about educated women today and their prospects for marriage. For more than a century, women were often forced to choose between an education and a husband. We were wondering: Is this still the case? Does marriage suit educated women?
Kerri Miller spoke with Stephanie Coontz, professor of history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. She is the author of the op-ed that spurred this in-depth segment.
"You know back in the 19th century," Coontz said on The Daily Circuit, "the woman was described by the leading gynecologist of the day as someone with a head too small for intellect but just big enough for love. And women who wanted to do more were called mental hermaphrodites. It was said that it would ruin their fertility, it would ruin their marriages, and as you say, right up until the 1950s and 60s, women were told...'What you're going to college for is to get your MRS and, as soon as you get that, you should...leave college.'"
Indeed in the 1950s, men ranked education and intelligence near the bottom in qualities they prized in a mate, Coontz said in her recent op-ed. Good cooking ranked near the top. Today, many men put cooking and cleaning near the bottom and intelligence and education near the top.
Today, women are earning more than half of all of Masters and PhDs awarded, as well as 60 percent of the bachelor's degrees.
This change has affected how men see themselves too, said Kerri's other guest, Joshua Coleman, co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families.
Before the sexual revolution, "a man defined himself by being the protector and the provider and the woman by being the homemaker, and by being deferential to the man," Coleman said. "That's largely been turned on its head. Men no longer see themselves as being the protector and the provider. There are still wrinkles in it, one of the winkles is that for many men, at least for some men, they don't really know what's attractive about them if they're no longer in the protector and provider role."
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How does it affect a marriage if a woman is more educated or earns more than her husband?
How does it work in your marriage?
We talked about modern marriage yesterday with author Stephanie Coontz and psychologist Joshua Coleman on The Daily Circuit..
Stephanie Coontz wrote in the New York Times about how an advanced degree and higher income affects a woman's marriage prospects.
How do you see marriage in America shifting?
I have completed two graduate degrees. My husband did not complete college; however, education can be formal and informal. I considered him to be well educated and my equal; just as my father considered my mother to be his intellectual equal although she had not completed college and he was a post graduate education specialist. My husband makes more money than I will ever make and he is more financially secure than I will ever be without him.
My wife has a Masters, I have just a BFA. It works out just fine. Is it perhaps because women tend to go for undergrad degrees that have lower value in the job market? (Communications, psych, etc), Rather than engineering or science fields.
I have a graduate degree and a law degree. I wouldn't at all consider marrying someone without a bachelor's degree at least. My husband is an attorney as well - which works so well for both of us - I feel like he treats me as an equal partially because of that fact. I wonder if that makes me snobby.
I have a PhD, my husband doesn't. I don't see it as a big deal, except formal occasions where titles are required. It seems people are more comfortable with "Dr. and Mrs." as opposed to "Mr. and Dr."
I have a masters & am currently working on my Ed.D. (applied doctorate); my husband has a BA in liberal arts. We hadn't struggled until I was about a year into my doctoral work... I'm now 3 yrs in and just passed my Critical Lit Review - the HUGE hurdle that allows me to start on my dissertation and makes me ABD status. So... I can now apply for tenure-track faculty positions, which has been my life-long career goal. My husband seems to be freaking out, despite this being the path I've worked on for 20 years. And, although he is kind and generous, and has always been incredibly supportive, my MAJOR accomplishment was not celebrated.
Hard stuff. I wouldn't recommend women marry men who have vastly DIS-similar academic goals. I adore my husband, and he's got an incredible career in IT, but this has been really hard for all of us.
My husband has a bachelor's degree and works as a web developer. I have a master's degree in social work and he makes nearly double my income. Career fields that have been traditionally "women's work" pay dramatically less even with advanced degrees.
I recently completed a dual masters degree. I met my boyfriend during my last semester of undergrad 6.5 years ago (he is 5 years older than me). He was working in the restaurant industry at the time, was laid off a few years ago, and has since gone back to school to get an AA as he had no college experience. I have never thought of myself as being partnered with someone who is less than equal to me, we just have had different life experiences to get to where we both are, and as he may not be as interested in the same things as I am in regards to my coursework, we each bring differnt things to the table when we talk, and that makes it more interesting than if we both knew what each other was doing all of the time.
One of the many factors buried in the numbers is that higher education still runs on a mentality born in past decades of the struggle for greater equality, even though times have changed considerably. Women DO represent large percentages of graduate students and faculty, but still deans can mandate that departments hire women in the name of diversity. This feeds into all of the talk about men and their falling acheivement rates in education.
I have my AS and am going back to school to get my BA/BS. However, my partner just has a high school diploma. He claims i have book smarts but he has street smarts. However, my book smart degree helped me land my job along with experience, where as his street smarts will only land him a minimal paying job.
@KerriMPR My wife is more educated than me and I had never thought about it before--or cared. Doesn't mean she's always right, though. ;)
@kerrimpr Married down socioeconomically - but met at school. We both have BAs, he plans to start his MA this fall. We couldn't be happier!
@Sarah - EXACTLY! My career is in social work, as well... and even with a probable salary as a tenure-track professor, my DH's career as an IT consultant is highly lucrative. I doubt I'll ever get CLOSE to his salary!!
Like others have noted, although I have the advanced degrees my husband still earns more money.
I am Hmong and know many Hmong women who are the sole breadwinner in the family. More Hmong women are getting higher education and are the income winner and more Hmong men are staying home and being the caretaker. However, there are definitely distinct gender roles even if the breadwinner is female.
My wife is up with integrity when it comes to education. But when we argue she reverts to "Be a MAN!" statements quite unfairly.
Kerri's guests are Stephanie Coontz, professor of history and family studies at The Evergreen State College, and Joshua Coleman, co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families and is a psychologist with a private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Guest Stephanie Coontz.
Many are discussing the inequality in pay, especially with advanced degrees. I work in the nonprofit sector and see this primarily b/w sectors, but the nonprofit sector seems to be heavily dominated by females in almost any office I have ever worked in. Even with an advanced degree, I am not earning much more than I was out of undergrad.
I have an undergrad degree and nearly completed a Masters; nearly 28 years ago I married a freelance professional photographer with a little bit of college. The education makes no difference to me. My husband has talents and abilities that I don't--we complement each other.
My aunt went to Pomona College in 1936 and her mother told her, "Don't ever marry a man not as smart as you are." My aunt happened to work in the Dean's office and looked up the student records on all the men on campus. It turned out, only THREE men were "smarter" than she was (according to the testing of the day).
@KerriMPR I have a bachelor's degree my fiancee a GED. It works, however, I wish he would take an Intro to Logic course. Better debates!
The Daily Circuit guest Joshua Coleman.
@KerriMPR I married a chef; he respects my educ. and I respect his professional skills. But I have to go elsewhere for stimulating convos.
I am an underemployed professional with a graduate degree who went back to school as a second career. I do not earn as much as I know I would in a good economy, and my wife has told me she wants to earn more. Although I agree with her, it was still a tough blow to my self-esteem to here this.
My wife has an AA and I have a PhD, but the degrees are meaningless. We share all tasks, both work hard, are successful, and have a fulfilling intellectual life. If your partner is a conversational boor, the cause is not their lack of a BA.
I think a Master's degree does not make too much of a difference, however most women with PhDs that I know are looking for a man with some knowledge and education. I have heard many complaints of a lack of smart men in town for women who work at a rural university.
In 1984, my high school chemistry teacher commented to the entire class of 16 females that we were going to college to get our Mrs. degree. I was offended then, and that frustration was stirred again last Sunday as I read the NYTimes article of this title.
My husband and I met as undergraduates, I the senior and he the first-year. We became engaged to one another 4 days after meeting, married 6 months later. We both chose to keep our own names, and 23 years later, I am still amazed that women are still defining themselves by their husbands. This article and discussion still implies that women are supposed to make a choice between identifying themselves by either their own accomplishments (their degrees) or by their husband (Mrs.).
My husband and I have shared the joys and responsibilities of marriage and parenting; we respect and love one another for what we bring to the home and relationship. There have been times I stayed home with our young children, other years when he was the one providing primary at-home care.
I'm a dissertation short of my doctorate; he has continued to advance in his salary without advanced degrees, while working with advanced degrees I have found the professional world less interested in acknowledging and honoring women with advanced degrees, but not my husband. Nor are my love and respect for him based on his degree status.
Despite my being very intelligent and personable (If I may say so), my lack of education and career prospects seemed a bridge too far for my last girl friend who had a masters degree. It's very disheartening to realize that sometimes old ideas about gender roles still win out.
Still looking, but I have heard, "wow, you're a woman AND an attorney." I am open to all levels of education for my mate, but I run into men all the time that are intimidated by my education.
My wife has better education and income, but she is very sensitive about being a "provider", so I end up paying most of the bills. I imagine this changes when kids are involved, but I wonder how common this sort of sentiment is?
Listening in from Germany. We are here because of my wife's PhD. My BA doesn't mean anything between us. I greatly enjoy being primary parent of our 7 year old daughter. The 'role reversal' has yielded us many benefits and opportunities. But over here it doesn't compute.
A lot of women are commenting on the level of their degree but not the area of study. I think when terms of income, job stability, etc come into play, a liberal arts degree, even at a masters or higher, may not stack up to a math, science, or engineering degree at a bachelors level.
It's great that more women are going further into their education, but I'd love to see more young girls get involved in the sciences and engineering, especially when we look at so many statements concerning the lack of qualified people for technical jobs in the wake of the unemployment crisis.
My wife earned her bachelor's and then decided she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. Her mom went berserk, but honestly - after 13 yrs - she's really happy, we have a wonderful family life of which she is the anchor and I think being an educated person makes her a better mom, wife, and person. Do your experts see other out there like this?
My partner always says to me that I am a "know it all" but I am just trying to make conversation. It bothers him sometimes that I can carry on an intelligent conversation with other men. He always thinks I am trying to "show off".
I have a Master's degree and my husband a technical certificate. I am the primary breadwinner but I don't think income makes much of a difference in our relationship. The difference in education level, however, does and comes up in many, many ways from how we react to our children (their education, parenting issues, etc.), what we find interesting to talk about, whom we want to spend time with besides each other, etc. Makes marriage challenging all the time because we think and talk so differently about just about everything.
I am a partner in a law firm and my husband had a BA but does not use it whatsoever. He stays home with our 3 daughters, does 90% of the cooking, and the household chores. As I dated, I never considered the education level of the guy or his ability to "earn" as I was on track to being fairly successful; however, well-read, witty, knowledgeable about current events, etc. were important and degrees did not necessarily translate into having these things.
A Jun 23rd 2011 Economist article on "the Decline of Marriage" noted per the 2010 Census how the overall US marriage rate has just declined under 50% for the first time ever. It also noted how traditional marriage has been increasingly become the exclusive domain of the educated & affluent.
Marriage itself is now a class issue - in 1960 there was only a 4% variance between high school vs college grads in the marriage rate. Now the variance is 16%. It seems only college grads can afford to get married these days.
My wife's an M.D. and very successful, I'm a college dropout and own a struggling small business. People ask me if this is an issue and I'm like, "what's the alternative, have a less intelligent, less successful wife?" No way! I love my sugar mama and I enthusiastically sign up to help out with our 2-year old a bit more than my share.
My wife does have a bit of a complex that she does not have a graduate degree (she has a B.A.). Her mother, father, brother and myself all have advanced degrees, and even though I don't care at all what she has, I know she still feels like she is not as smart as everyone around her.
The press published an article approximately a decade ago reporting that the single women over 35 years old had a better chance to be a victim of terrorism than to be married. My husband loves to tease me that he spared me by marrying me at 36 years old.
Wow. Not to offend, but I'm agape that people still care about this kind of thing in this day and age, and that it's actually still a criteria for marriage for some people...
I have a degree, my wife does not. However, she is smarter than me in many ways that cannot be quantified in 4-8 years and piece of paper.
There is an interesting life/work balance and marital educational level discussion in the biography of Julia Robinson, a Ph.D. mathematician. Her sister, Constance Reid, is the author. Suggest for the science/math mind.
My husband has a Bachelor's in Graphic Comm, I'm working toward a PhD in mathematics. He has the better "street smarts" of the two of us, so I don't consider myself "smarter," per se. I find sometimes that the conversation with other graduate students is more stimulating, but things have improved immensely with our conversation since he began listening to MPR! We have much more to talk about over dinner.
Ellen Burstyn says she was the FIRST FEMALE PROTAGONIST in a major movie (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore) in 1974. Our gender expectations have changed hugely in the 35 years since. My opinion is that it may take years, decades, or centuries for our "biological or perhaps evolutionary" gender expectations to catch up (although I am trying !!).
I've married a much younger woman. With a history of chronic disease in my family, it is a very realistic possibility that I may be leave her a widow at a young age. I've encouraged her to pursue post graduate work, because she may some day be on her own and I want her to be self reliant. Nevertheless, I do struggle with the differences in earning potential.
I don't think we should equate degree with intelligence. I have a M.Ed., while my girlfriend has a B.S. She is far smarter than I am. Additionally, I work with folks who have their PhD, and they're some of the dimmest bulbs I've ever met.