More Men Marrying Wealthier Women
Beagy Zielinski is a German-born 28-year-old stylist who moved to New York to study fashion in 1995 and stayed. Just before Christmas, she broke up with her blue-collar boyfriend, who repaired Navy ships.
“He was extremely insecure about my career and how successful I am,” Ms. Zielinski said.
An analysis of census data to be released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found that she and countless women like her are victims of a role reversal that is profoundly affecting the pool of potential marriage partners.
“Men now are increasingly likely to marry wives with more education and income than they have, and the reverse is true for women,” said Paul Fucito, spokesman for the Pew Center. “In recent decades, with the rise of well-paid working wives, the economic gains of marriage have been a greater benefit for men.”
The analysis examines Americans 30 to 44 years old, the first generation in which more women than men have college degrees. Women’s earnings have been increasing faster than men’s since the 1970s.
“We’ve known for some time that men need marriage more than women from the standpoint of physical and mental well-being,” said Stephanie Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and research director for the Council on Contemporary Families, a research and advocacy group. “Now it is becoming increasingly important to their economic well-being as well.”
The education and income gap has grown even more in the latest recession, when men held about three in four of the jobs that were lost. The Census Bureau said Friday that among married couples with children, only the wife worked in 7 percent of the households last year, compared with 5 percent in 2007. The percentage rose to 12 percent from 9 percent for blacks, among whom the education and income gap by gender has typically been even greater.
“I’m not married, I would like to be married, and my friends are all in a similar situation,” said Dr. Rajalla Prewitt, a 38-year-old psychiatrist in New Jersey. “We’re having difficulty finding someone where there’s a meeting of the minds, where we can have the same goals and values.”
“Particularly, African-American men who are educated want a traditional home where they are the breadwinner,” said Dr. Prewitt, who is a black woman.
In 2007, the Pew report found, median household incomes of married men, married women and unmarried women were all about 60 percent higher than in 1970. But among unmarried men, median household income rose by only 16 percent. These days, men who marry typically gain another breadwinner.
In 1970, 28 percent of wives had husbands who were better educated, and 20 percent were married to men with less education. By 2007, the comparable figures were 19 percent and 28 percent. In 1970, 4 percent of husbands had wives who made more money; in 2007, 22 percent did.
College-educated wives are less likely to have a husband who is college-educated and in the highest income bracket than they were in 1970, and married women are less likely to have a husband who works.
“Among all married couples,” the report said, “wives contribute a growing share of the household income, and a rising share of those couples include a wife who earns more than her husband.”
While marriage rates have declined over all, women with college degrees are still more likely to marry today than less educated women.
But some women find that the dating pressures are intense. Syreeta McFadden, a 35-year-old Columbia and Sarah Lawrence graduate who is between jobs after working in real estate development, said: “With men of any ethnic group, it’s a little intimidating for them to encounter smart women. Money is tricky.
“But, I think for me, it comes down to compatibility,” Ms. McFadden said. “Can you grow with me? Or as my genius friend the textile designer says, she asks on first dates or meeting men in bars, ‘Do you have a passport and a library card?’ ”
Elaine Richardson, who is in her 50s, is divorced and owns a health care consulting firm in Westchester, said that men “call you high maintenance if you look like you don’t need anyone to take care of you.”
Professor Coontz at Evergreen State recalled that from the late 19th century through the 1940s, it was not uncommon for a woman to finish high school or go to college and marry a man who made more but was less educated.
“This changed in the 1950s to 1970, as financial returns to education really mounted for men, but not for women,” Professor Coontz said.
The latest shift, Professor Coontz said, “is truly a sea change in gender relations within marriage.”
“Many people have worried that men’s increasing dependence on their wives, especially if they are laid off, might lead to the kind of backlash against women workers that happened in the Great Depression,” Professor Coontz said. “But I think that wives’ work has become so normative that this is unlikely.”
Ms. Zielinski, the fashion stylist, said her best friend, a man, told her once: “ ‘You are confident, have good credit, own your own business, travel around the world and are self-sufficient. What man is going to want you?’ He laughed, but I found that pretty depressing.”