Men prefer a Mrs. to money?

A new study suggests young men are more likely than women to sacrifice their career for love, marriage and romance.

Published August 30, 2007 11:48PM (EDT)

Men, you love-crazy fools! Always dropping your careers to stand by your woman!

A fresh rash of news stories about a study published in a journal called Gender Issues had me swallowing my derision. The survey found that men are more likely to sacrifice career and professional goals for love, marriage and romance. Granted, it's a seductive idea: The new young man -- milk-fed on modern ideas of gender equity and the importance of intimacy -- is finally putting his career in perspective and seeking balance from the beginning. The new young woman is allowing her ambition to shine and won't let some boy toy get in the way of her dreams.

But let's look at the nitty-gritties first. The survey quizzed 237 college students -- 80 men and 157 women between the ages of 18 and 25 -- about their life priorities and how they would act in a variety of situations. The results found that 61.3 percent of the men claimed they would sacrifice their careers for love as opposed to 51 percent of the women.

The first and most obvious weakness of the study is the laughably limited pool of participants: Not only is a study of less than 250 subjects small, the gender imbalance suggests some serious self-selection. Were the young men who declined to take the survey too busy pursuing their career goals? Maybe they would have answered the queries about romance quite differently.

Another problem is the theoretical nature of the project -- it didn't study actual actions but expectations. In the heady meritocracy of college life, where college students often develop an unreasonable sense of their own freedom from societal norms, young people's predictions about their future behavior might be just a tad unreliable. A similar college study might find that a large percentage of society is expecting to be novelists or visual artists -- but expectin' don't make it so. Or as one article put it, the study raises questions "about whether those promising to swim the deepest ocean for their beloved were big, fat liars."

And although this is utterly speculative, I wonder if there's not an intrinsic problem with surveying men and women about career sacrifices even after they have happened. That women put love and family first is still such a prevailing norm -- especially after kids arrive -- that it's hard to think that men and women don't define the concept of sacrifice differently. Many otherwise feminist men I know feel they have sacrificed quite a bit by just having families at all. By the same token, plenty of my self-realized female friends don't seem to recognize the professional sacrifices they have made for their partners simply because those sacrifices were minor compared to those of their friends.

Finally, the facts of the wage gap suggest that even if these Romeos want to rush home early or go part-time or move to accommodate their ambitious Juliets, they may feel compelled to walk in their father's footprints and place their job above love. In this case, it may take more than desire to keep men from privileging their careers; it may take a woman with an alluringly fat paycheck.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

MORE FROM Carol Lloyd

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Academia Broadsheet College Coupling Gender Love And Sex