A man needs a (well-educated) maid?

A study finds men live longer with educated wives -- but what's that have to do with housekeeping skills?

By Alexis Fitts
October 23, 2009 5:01PM (UTC)
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A recent study from the Swedish Institute for Social Research found that men who marry educated women live longer than those whose wives lack advanced education. Not only that: having an educated wife is more crucial to men's mortality rates then their own level of education. You might wonder: Is it because men who are healthy and secure in their lives are more attracted to educated women? Or maybe settling down with a smart woman increases your own zest for life, and provides inspiration for staying fit and eating well.

But the researchers behind the study extrapolated this data into a tidier conclusion: these men live longer because highly educated women are better at keeping house. The researchers explain, "Women traditionally take more responsibility for the home than men do, and as a consequence, women's education might be more important for the family lifestyle." The study has been making its way round the Web and writers have been rallying around the researchers' pronouncement. "The challenge of keeping our menfolk fit and well," writes the Times of London, includes "the struggle to prevent men walking to work in winter with sopping wet hair, wearing only a shirt; or, my personal favorite, reminding them not to shut the tea towel in the oven door," Wait, I'm sorry -- "menfolk"? Are these highly educated women nurturing their men by roasting game over an open flame? And are men really so dense that they need a PhD to remind them to bring their umbrella when it's raining?


Look, as the product of my own stay-at-home mom with two masters' degrees, I am not one to belittle the health-enhancing contributions that an educated homemaker can provide. And my mother was a better parent -- and a better wife -- for all the analytic thinking skills nourished by her degrees. My mom hopped aboard the organic food train before pesticides became a talking point and researched medical studies to the point that doctors' appointments involved less diagnosis and more debate. But to sum up her contributions by her ability to keep our derrieres in organic cotton would not only be belittling, it would be incorrect. Her intelligence supports her role as a built-in confidant for my father -- a sounding board for his worries, and a vast pool of career advice. Because they are intellectual equals, their relationship is one of parity, and they are both happier and healthier because of it.

Why not at least engage with the possibility that marrying a partner with a bright and curious mind might be life extending in its own right. Maybe these smart women keep their husband's minds active in later years, helping them avoid depression, Alzheimer's, and other mental illnesses, which can claim lives. Maybe educated women are better at cultivating successful relationships. After all, happy marriages have long been linked to good health, regardless of how many degrees hang over the marital bed.

Alexis Fitts

Alexis Fitts is a Salon editorial intern.

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