By Dan Holly
Are you a law-firm partner looking for a husband? Consider marrying a plumber.
That’s the implication of a new study from Yale University that shows that college educated women are increasingly freezing their eggs because they are having a hard time finding suitable partners. Marriage rates have fallen in recent decades at the same time as women have become the majority of college graduates, law-school graduates and medical-school graduates.
Professor Marcia Inhorn’s findings, presented at European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Barcelona in early July this month, was based on interviews with 150 women in the United States and Israel who had decided to freeze their eggs. This practice, which developed in the 1980s, has exploded in recent years; about 5,000 egg freezing cycles were performed in the United States in 2013; it is predicted that 76,000 will occur this year, according to Dr. Pasquale Patrizio, a Yale fertility specialist and co-investigator on the study .
“Highly educated women are having difficulty finding partnerships with equally educated men due to growing gender-based differences in educational achievement,” Inhorn, who teaches anthropology and international affairs at Yale, told AMI. “Most of the women had already pursued and completed their educational and career goals, but, by their late 30s, they have been unable to find a lasting reproductive relationship with a stable partner. This is why they turned to egg freezing.”
Marrying down is a reversal of traditional marriage practices in which women have sought to select a partner of a superior social status; social scientists call this common practice of marrying up “hypergamy.” Many women may resist marrying down, but social trends suggest it is becoming a necessity.
Since women began to outnumber men in college enrolment in the 1990s, pressures for women to marry down have increased. Today, women are more educated than men – earning about 60% of bachelor’s and master’s degrees. There are now more women than men in both medical school and law school. Marriage rates have steadily fallen, though less so for educated women. But the stakes of remaining single may be higher for women.
In addition to the risk of having children at an older age, women may suffer a disproportionate share of financial problems. Even after accounting for attendance rates, women owe a disproportionate share of the $1.4 trillion Americans owe in student debt, according to a May report from the American Association of University Women.
The imperative to seek a broader range of eligible partners may make even more sense among African-American women, who have a harder time than white women finding spouses, data shows. A Brookings Institution study, citing a shortage of “marriageable black men” due, in part, to high incarceration rates, found: “A black woman with an undergraduate degree aged between 35 and 45 is 15 percentage points less likely to be married than a white woman without an undergraduate degree.”
Whatever the implications of Inhorn’s study, the idea of women marrying beneath one’s educational level produces strong reactions on either side.
Last year, Suzanne Venker, an author of five books on marriage and feminism, wrote in an opinion piece for Fox News.COM that marrying down can result in “women playing dumb in the presence of men. Such behavior would attract the wrong type of guy. Good men like smart women. Marrying down can also cause resentment and financial strain on a marriage,” Venker wrote.
She added that marrying down can cause resentment among women and financial strain in their marriage.
But Seleana Bines, a public relations executive, told how she found happiness dating a security guard in an op-ed published last year in the Washington Post. She argued that there were too few educated men and that women need to adjust their perception of who is an eligible mate. She did and found happiness, Bines wrote, adding that with the right man, relationships beneath one’s social class is not settling. “Core values are nonnegotiable,” she said.
How quickly social attitudes are changing is hard to say, but the number of women who are willing to marry down is on the rise. In fact, the percentage of women marrying down has actually surpassed men marrying down, according to a study last year by the Institute for Family Studies.
The institute, a Charlottesville, Va. think tank dedicated to strengthening marriage and family life, found that the percentage of marriages where the husband is more educated than the wife held steady from 1990 to 2015 and is now slightly under 25 percent of all marriages. Meanwhile, the percentage of marriages where the woman is more educated has doubled, rising to 25.3 percent over this same period.
In 2015, author Jon Birger even coined a term for marrying down – “mixed-collar marriages.”
A shortage of college-educated men was fueling the uptick in marriages between more educated women and less educated men, Birger wrote in his book, “Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game.”
Don Vaughan and Nanette Lavoie-Vaughan wonder what all the fuss is about. Don, a former journalist turned freelance writer, acknowledges that Nanette, a nurse practitioner and registered nurse, earns more money than he does. But both say that has never been an issue.
“From the very beginning, it was never a ‘me and you,’ it was an ‘us,’ ” Don said. “We always envisioned the future together as a couple. Nan’s really good job allowed me to pursue the career I always wanted.”
They laugh off any awkwardness their unequal situations might generate. Don has a B.A. and Nan has three postgraduate degrees including a Ph.D. “She’s wildly educated,” Don said. As Nan begins to list the letters that go after her name to designate her professional accreditation, Don quips, “It takes two business cards.”
They both had pushback before getting married. Don had male relatives who said they would never marry a woman who made more money than they did.
Nanette recalled: “I had friends who, when I was dating Don, who looked at me and said, ‘Girl, why are you marrying a journalist? They don’t make any money. You’ll never stop working.’ I told them, “That’s crazy. This is just the person I have fallen in love with and we’re going to be together.’
The difference in education and income levels has never made a difference, she said, adding: Some of those friends – several of them – have been through failed marriages or never found the right relationship, and here I am celebrating our 34th anniversary. It works.”
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