Is "marrying up" going down?

More highly educated women are finding mates, according to a San Francisco Chronicle article debunking a bevy of recent trend stories about women.

Published January 5, 2006 3:00PM (EST)

This week, Broadsheet readers have had a lot to say about marrying for money vs. love. Here's another twist from a compelling story in Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle, by staff writer Reyhan Harmanci, called "Next Time You Read About 'What Women Want,' Check the Research -- It's Likely to Be Flimsy."

Among other dubious canards given a lot of press attention lately -- moms opting out of the workforce in droves! -- Harmanci analyzes Maureen Dowd's assertion that high-achieving women can't find mates: "Women moving up still strive to marry up," Dowd wrote in "Are Men Necessary?" "Men moving up still tend to marry down. The two sexes' going in opposite directions has led to an epidemic of professional women missing out on husbands and kids."

Harmanci finds the two studies on which Dowd bases this claim seriously lacking. One British study, which found women's "desirability" dropped as their IQs increased, used data about men and women who were born in 1921. The other study, which concluded that men would rather marry women in subordinate jobs, used a few hundred undergrads as test subjects.

One economist's survey of more comprehensive data -- the U.S. Census -- had quite different findings: "Dowd's claims don't seem to hold up when stacked up against census findings," Harmanci writes. "In 2004, University of Washington economics professor Elaina Rose analyzed millions of census records for Americans aged 40 to 44 to explore hypergamy, the notion that women marry up in class.

"She found that the marriage gap -- the lower rate of marriage for women with advanced degrees -- had shrunk even as the population of educated women increased over the past few decades. In 1980, a woman in that age group with three years of graduate school was 14 percentage points less likely to be married than a woman with only a high school diploma. By 2000, that 14-point difference had shrunk to 5.

"'I believed in Maureen Dowd's thinking,' says Rose, 'but as an economist, I wanted to look at the data and see what was going on. I found my preconceptions were incorrect.'"

Now, there's a trend story that every women's magazine and newspaper style section should get right on, turning Rose's study into hyper headlines: "Brainy Chicks Hotter Than Ever!" or "Advanced Degrees, Marriage License: You Can Have It All!"

Don't hold your breath.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Katharine Mieszkowski

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