educated women marrying down

OK, thank god. I was starting to think that no one wants to marry educated women.

No, that’s not true. I didn’t really think that. But sometimes I felt like the rest of the world did. I read all this stuff about how women with multiple degrees who earn more money than their partners also end up doing all of the housework, and raising the kids basically on their own. The articles about stay-at-home men often depict them as tragic characters with fragile egos who are uncomfortable with their partners’ successes and also would like more allowance with which to buy video games, please.

The new 60% of college graduates– women– are going to be forced to “marry down,” IF they marry at all (and we all know what happens when people don’t get married…A TERRIBLE LIFE!).

Marrying down is a thing now. I get the feeling we’re all supposed to be really scared.

(marrying down…what does it even mean? and i always think couples where the guy is shorter look awesome.  source)

But I just read this piece by Stephanie Coontz in the NYTimes. And it gave me hope. Or at least, it gave me some perspective backed up by some studies that sound just about as legitimate as the other studies that back up the pieces that take my hope away.

Allow me to summarize: Educated women are going to be OK.

Actually, some research shows that they have more caring, involved partners and better sex lives.  They get and give more oral sex, apparently. And they do it while cooking organic, grass-fed dinners with their culinarily inclined partners.


I might have added that last bit. (“Culinarily” might not be a word.)

Coontz says yes, it’s true about “marrying down.” At least in the sense that highly educated women are increasingly choosing partners who don’t have as many degrees as them.

So what?

But there’s a tiny problem.

Coontz blames romance novels and something someone should call Lois Lane syndrome (ignoring the nice, nerdy guy while waiting for Superman to sweep you off your feet) for the women who stubbornly insist that they want a man who has exceeded them. Smarter. More degrees. The word women use here is “respect.” Some young women even say that they want to be in “awe” of their eventual life partner.

(i have always preferred Clark. it’s the glasses. they’re just really hot. unlike the blue bodysuit. source)

I’m not gonna lie- I get this. And I don’t think romance novels are entirely to blame (I think I’ve only read three?). Respect seems critical to a strong, lasting relationship. Respect is the powerful beast that guards the door to the chamber full of petty arguments and squirming dissatisfactions. And I am in awe of Bear. I’m in awe of his fantastically analytical brain. I’m in awe of his remarkably uninhibited intellectualism. I’m astonished by his diligence and thrilled by his passion and captivated by his clever humor. When we disagree, I think there’s probably a good chance he’s right, too.

But none of those things require Bear to have more degrees than me.

I read the piece aloud to Bear in bed, Sunday morning.

“I can’t remember what made me fall in love with you,” I said. “What if it was something traditional?”

“It was biology,” he said. “You wanted my body.” He grins.

“Well, yeah.”

I think about it.

We have the same number of degrees, but he makes a lot more money than me. He has an impressive job. I don’t have a title. I work from home most days. I cook. He wants to cook, but doesn’t quite know where to start and then always leaves all of the ingredients out on the counter and forgets to turn off the oven. Sometimes he washes all of the dishes in the sink, but most of the time, I’m the one who cleans the apartment. He goes to business meetings a lot. I don’t. He is mathy. I am artistic. In many ways we fit some sort of antiquated gender stereotype that inspired my brother to buy me a frilly apron for my birthday (I laughed).

(i need one like this, for Valentine’s Day.  source)

But when I think about what drew me to Bear, I think about his bashfulness. I think about the way he always had a good question to ask me– he was always interested in learning more about me. I think about the way he smiled, and looked quickly away, and how he followed up and sent me funny emails. I think about how vulnerable he was, and how willing he was to let himself be vulnerable. I think about things that don’t fit a stereotype of the kind of powerful man young women supposedly fantasize about being with.

So I don’t know how traditional we are. Or what traditional even really means. It’s hard to tell why people choose each other.

Bear has a fake front tooth. It got knocked out when he was a kid. My dad has a fake front tooth, the same one, because his was also knocked out when he was a kid. Bear, like my dad, is a type 1 diabetic. They are both extremely hairy. One day, they will both be bald. You don’t have to try too hard to imagine that I chose Bear because he reminded me of my dad. But I certainly didn’t feel that way, when I was getting to know Bear. He didn’t remind me of my dad even a little. For example, my dad is loud and talkative. Bear is quiet and pauses a long time before he speaks.

I might have chosen Bear because of the way he uses words. I am, after all, a little obsessed with words. And Bear handles them deftly. Maybe I chose him because of our similarities.

Maybe it was just his smokin’ hot bod. It’s a good guess.

But this much is clear: degrees and powerful jobs (whether your partner has them or not) don’t come even close to telling the whole story about any couple. And I don’t think anyone really fits a stereotype.  Instead, I think people want different things, and there’s plenty of awe to go around. I also think Coontz is right– we shouldn’t let degrees define our decisions. But then, maybe we aren’t, really. If her article is accurate, it sounds like we’re talking about two groups of women. Women who are making a list about what they want in a potential partner, and women who have found that partner.

And guess what– you never end up with the whole list. And guess what– it doesn’t even matter.

I had a list. My perfect man was supposed to be wildly musical. He was supposed to write songs. He was supposed to have a PhD. Yes. That was on my list. He was supposed to be Jewish.

Instead, I chose Bear.

Thank god.

*  *  *

What do you think about “marrying down”? Has anyone here done it? :-) And forget marriage for a second, what about dating?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in a giant fluffy blue coat. Thank you, Melanie!!! (post to follow)

P.S. And what about gay women with PhDs, who aren’t looking for any kind of man? Maybe someone should ask them how many degrees they expect from their partners.

P.P.S Thank you San D, for sending me the link to the article!

I wrote a list of reasons why small breasts are great, for the Frisky. Check it out here!


Kate on February 13th 2012 in feminism, marriage, relationships

34 Responses to “educated women marrying down”

  1. katilda responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    you made me think of this article! i read it awhile back….in fact, who knows, i may have gotten the link from your blog in the first place…in which case, embarrassing….haha in any case, have at it! Alpha Women, Beta Men:

  2. Rachel responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    The phrase “marrying down” honestly sends me into a rage- it’s so blatantly classist, yet apparently deemed entirely acceptable by society. The idea that there’s some kind of shame in marrying someone poorer than you or with a different educational background is disgusting to me. It has nothing to do with respect for an individual- it’s all about your status in a class-based hierarchy, and it’s gross.

    In terms of me, personally- I’ve made more money than most of the guys I’ve dated due to magically landing an awesome job right out of college and being attracted to artsy/intellectual types. None of them have ever expressed any discomfort with it. One guy I dated worked both as a carpenter and a nanny, and that seemed like a perfect combination to me- dude could build a house and take care of the kids! I would love to marry a guy interested in being a stay-at-home Dad so that I can pursue my career.

  3. Melanie responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    Great post, as usual. I date based on if a man seems genuinely nice, can make me laugh uncontrollably, and makes me feel adored. What they make, or how many degrees they have, doesn’t even fall in my top 100 things I care about. My boyfriend has more degrees than me. He makes about 1/3 of what I make. I am definitely more book smart and worldly. We both are about the same in the “artsy” category, although I am more willing to take risks with fashion and such. He’s quiet, naive, and shy. I’m loud and boisterous. We totally make it work. There is a lovely balance created by our personalities that I enjoy immensely.

    And you are more than welcome for the coat. I am so excited you like it.

  4. Haley responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    I totally get where you’re talking about – I’m on my way to a PhD and my husband has a BA and is teaching elementary/middle school. I am totally in awe of him – his social skills, teaching ability, time management, how good he is with kids, and his meticulousness. While I, on the other hand, am an awkward, tongue-tied, procrastinating, introverted slob. Yet I’m guessing he admires me for other reasons. It has nothing to do with number of degrees or earning power – people are more complicated than their resumes.

  5. Caitlin responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    I feel like things aren’t quite as simple as “marrying up” or “marrying down.” You marry your partner, and the qualities that draw you to him or her may have everything or nothing to do with their intelligence or their salary. For instance, I have an MS while my husband does not, but he makes significantly more money than me. Who married down? I’d like to think both of us married up, and that we improve each other by being together. He keeps me from being a total workaholic, while I keep him from procrastinating and never leaving his computer.

    As for the romance novel thing, who even reads them? I wonder if there is some self-selection amongst people who read romance, and whether the romance genre tends to be more escapist than anything else.

  6. Sonja responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    I look at marriage as a partnership. My husband and I have different strengths, so we both married up and down. To channel the cheesy – we complete each other.
    I think when you get to the point of feeling like you’re an educated woman who married down, something has gone wrong in your relationship (and probably some time ago). I like that I can live out my weaknesses as well as my strengths in my marriage – and be appreciated for what I do well and supported in what I don’t do well.

  7. Kate responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    I was thinking of that article!! Thank you! I was trying to remember what it was called!

  8. Kate responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Rock on. I love this perspective. I keep meeting women who say they’re interested in guys who would consider being stay at home dads.

    I talked about it with Bear the other day– he said he would love to be a stay at home dad. And I think he’d be amazing at it. Suddenly, I really really wished that somehow, that could be arranged.

  9. Kate responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    Exactly. And I’m sure you have many fantastic qualities! :-)

  10. margosita responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    I agree with Rachel. The phrase “marrying down” is ridiculous and antiquated and helpful to no one except op-ed writers. (Sorry, Stephanie Cootz!) A lot of factors go into who you choose as a partner, and money/class/education is a complicated mix that may or may not play a major role. Depending.

    And honestly, so what if women are holding out? Articles like this always seem to concentrate on how awful it is that women are withholding marriage, as if it’s a prize they won’t allow either themselves or (in this case less-educated) men to have. Bad bad women. UGH. Give me a break.

  11. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    when i stop attracting wounded little boys, i’ll get back to you on this :) …but i agree with you, there are too many variables…being very spiritual, i lean more towards the subtle nuances and energies between two people…that, and i love a man with a hairy chest…that is my main requirement! i don’t care about degrees as long as he’s not lazy and makes me feel like a woman where it counts!

  12. BrokeElizabeth responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    I completely agree with Sonja… I don’t care about the number of degrees a man has, I want to know that our strengths and weaknesses complement each other.

  13. Raven responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    Besides the classist issue mentioned by other responders, I find it a rather narrow view by these op-ed pieces to suggest the only way a man can earn respect is by attending college, getting a high profile job, and making a lot of money (or being taller than the woman, or masculine in some society-defined way).

    Respect comes in many forms. I prefer intelligent partners, because I enjoy a meeting of the minds, but I’ve met many men without degrees who I found attractive, intelligent (sometimes moreso than me on subjects that impressed me), and managed to earn my respect in their own way. I’ve had relationships with and crushes on men who I respected for their kindness, compassion, generosity, artistic talent, or some other worthy trait. Loyalty comes to mind.

    These sorts of issues come up a lot among the submissive men I know, who find, even in kink communities, they are relegated to some tiny corner where they are perceived as weak and undeserving of respect. It stems from the view of the mainstream that men who show their vulnerability, or give up their power to another person (usually a woman), are seen as vile or worthless.

    Thus, the phrase “marrying down” implies not only a classist point of view, but a sexist one, as well. It assumes men should always be “better” than their female counterparts in all the ways that “matter”, and if a man does not fulfill his role as a dominant, assertive, degreed, and wealthy person, he is not worthwhile. Which plays into the shame a man should feel when his wife has achieved more in those areas men are supposed to control. (Just as women successful in “men’s” areas of the world are seen in varied negative ways.)

    And Kimmy Sue, I guffawed when I read your statement:”when i stop attracting wounded little boys, i’ll get back to you on this” — I tend to be in the same boat.

  14. Kate responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    @Kimmy Sue
    Yes, hairy chests!! Which reminds me to add a link to the post..

  15. StoriesAndSweetPotatoes responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    Articles that talk about things like this and analyze these “trends” are so confusing because they are based on such arbitrary markers. You did a good job of bringing this discussion back to reality because ultimately who cares or knows! It’s likely I’ll marry someone with less degrees than me but I can only hope they make more money because I’m going to need help with these student loans :) It’s all relative.

  16. Hannah responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    Apropos of nothing else in the comment section: I totally agree that Clark Kent is way more attractive.

    The glasses bring out his eyes, you know? And there’s something way hotter about knowing that his shirt is hiding amazing abs than seeing them plastered to blue spandex for the whole world to see.

  17. Kate responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    Thank you. I really appreciate that. I felt like I was doing a kinda bad job with this one. Maybe because it’s so confusing for me!

  18. Kate responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    Oh my god, yes.

  19. UnmarriedGradStudent responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    I haven’t read the NYT article yet, but suspect, based on other articles I have read, that women are marrying men with fewer degrees than them because more women than men are pursuing advanced degrees. We do this, in part, because we need more degrees than men to make an equivalent wage.

  20. Lynellekw responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    My mother once said she felt sorry for me, because my husband is not particularly handy around the house where my father can make or fix or build pretty much anything he thinks of. I was insulted. Horribly insulted. If I want a damn shelf put up, I can already do that myself. I didn’t marry to fill a need for someone to fix things around the house or to provide an income (he does earn more than me – but we see our joint earning potential as good for US). I married him for who he is, not for what his skills are. It’s a stupid view of life, to think that someone is “marrying down” if they marry someone who earns less than they do or has less formal education. It’s stupid because it reduces people to commodities. We have the luxury of being able to choose partners based on more than just their ability to fulfil material needs – surely it’s better to partner with someone who makes you better able to cope with life than someone who out-earns you?

  21. Renae responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    I find this interesting.
    I am only 25, but I will have a degree at some point in the future. (if I can finish it…)
    My Bear (yes, my hubby’s nickname is Bear as well.) is a tradesman.
    I am smarter and more intellectual than he is. (not that he’s dumb. He’s very intelligent, I’m just more intelligent.)
    It’s never felt like “marrying down”, probably because of the age gap. When we married, I was 19 and he was 30. He has so much more experience and wisdom than I do. He is the complete opposite of my father, both in looks and personality. There’s probably some Freudian explanation here…
    I do think there’s a lot of the Lois Lane syndrome around, and a good whack of Cinderella syndrome too. Women are looking out for this perfect man who ticks all the boxes on their list, while ignoring lots of really nice men who would make awesome husbands. They want a handsome prince to sweep them off their feet and into the life of a princess.
    If men publicized their expectations of “the perfect woman” the way some women do about men, we’d call them shallow and sexist.

  22. Ezz responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 6:46 pm #

    Oh wow, this post resonates so much with me. When I first married, I married a guy I met off the internet because I actually honestly believed (AT EIGHTEEN) that no-one else would ever love me.

    Four years, a child and a separation later, I emerged with a higher opinion of myself. I fell head over heels in love with a man aspiring to be a lawyer. He was intellectual, musical, good looking and had ambitions that matched mine. The big house, the nice car, the whole life.

    One thing he lacked? The ability to give anything of himself. The inability to give affection, let alone intimacy. The inability to let anyone (including me) in. Seven lonely years later, with our eyes on our ambitions and our impending financial stability – we were thrown into uncharted waters and we drowned. I was divorced twice before I was 30.

    Watching all of this happen was my best friend. He’d never been in a long-term relationship. He was warm, and loving and generous and softly spoken and funny. He worked in a warehouse for a minimum wage. And yet he spent all of his money on other people. About six months after I declared myself emotionally bankrupt and someone who should-not-be-in-a-relationship-ever – we grew closer. And I learned so much about myself and what love truly meant.

    It didn’t mean having the perfect life/car/house/career/whatever. It meant making bread together, and drinking wine together and snuggling on the couch together and travelling overseas together and holding hands together. True love needs truthfulness. True love needs thoughtfulness. True love needs friendship.

    Three years later – I am just as much in love with him as I was the day I realised it. xo

  23. Kate responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    Wow. Your life sounds a little like a movie. Or a book. You ended up with your best friend? Who’d been there all along? Amazing.
    (Of course, that doesn’t make the stuff in the middle any less painful)

  24. Taylor responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    Thank you for this article. I appreciate all the comments regarding finding your match rather then seeking an ideal.

    My first marriage started out as more traditional, he had more degrees, made the most money, etc etc, not that I am an illiterate pauper by any stretch of the imagination. All I will say about what went wrong with that marriage is I ought to have looked deeper into the packaging.

    The man I am with now has less formal education, and he makes less money then I do, but he is, in every way, my intellectual equal. He is wonderful with my kids, makes me laugh and he makes me think. When I get anal about a project I have due and I forget to take time out for myself, he makes me stop and remember that I am a woman first, and one he finds beautiful. He can’t cook to save his life, but he’s always willing to do his part and order takeout or tidy up after, and since we’ve shared this, he also has a hairy chest. There is no way I married down.

  25. Taylor responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 7:22 pm #

    Oh, and Kate, the 18 things post from January…

    I can’t do the power ponytail either. Take the time to get a proper bra fitting> Enjoy dessert> Waxing is your friend. Dress shields protect the white silk blouses. Good perfume is individual and alters with your personal body chemistry, so if you gag, it’s not for you. Eyeliner takes practice. And last but not least; they likely do have new clothes. My best friend sticks to her strict food plan by rewarding herself every two weeks with a new blouse, boots, etc. The rest you’re on your own with, especially the skinny jeans and yoga.

  26. teegan responded on 13 Feb 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    my first real relationship was one most people would consider “dating down.” he had never been to college (though he’d completed some cosmetology school and some emt school), he was a drinker, a scratched, a ‘man’s man.’ he was crude and loud, and i loved it.
    my friends (snotty college juniors and seniors all double majoring, mostly in arts & humanities subjects) asked why the hell i was with him. my first response was “because he’s the only one in this whole damn school that wants to make out with me!” but it wasn’t just that. he made me laugh. he brought out the primal, sexual woman in me. he called me “woman!” until then, my friends were not terrible physical – the boys were thin and thoughtful and not interested in me. but this guy thought i was hot. he would surprise me in the shower, push me against the wall. he didn’t think i was fragile, pure, virgnal, the way everyone else did. and the longer i knew him, the more intelligent i found out he was.
    alas, he was not the right one for me, though. he liked argument – not serious ones, just loud debates. we disagreed politically. there were all sorts of reasons it wouldn’t work. but not because he was ‘beneath’ me.

    i married a man with whom i’m pretty balanced. as others have said, we both married up. i read a little faster, figure things out a little more quickly. he’s more patient, more zen-like. we’re both good with our hands. we both hike at the same pace. we’re equally good at rummy. yes, he makes more money than i do, but if i wanted to trade places with him and teach high school english, he would offer to be the part-time job worker turned stay at home parent that i am/will be.
    and part of it is that, unlike anyone else i’ve dated, our families are on similar levels. his parents make a little more money than mine do now, but they had a little less when he was a kid than mine did when i was. they have similar levels of intelligence, similar values, similar personalities, even. and it works.

  27. Lauren of Better In Real Life responded on 14 Feb 2012 at 12:17 am #

    What happens when I’m totally more educated than my husband (2 degrees more than he has) and yet I am still making 20+k less than he is a year?


  28. Jennifer responded on 14 Feb 2012 at 6:44 am #

    I married “down”–in education and in height. I have a higher degree, but mine doesn’t earn me any money (liberal arts). He’s a technician and keeps us financially afloat. He’s not as ambitious as I am, despite being scary-smart in math/science. He’s working class and content.

    Funny (strange) that all those romances entail a man marrying “down.” All the wannabe Pretty Woman-clones are asking a man to love her for who she is, not what she does.

    Seems equality has kicked in another notch if woman are now facing this scenario.

    Go to my website to see a picture of us, since you love mismatched couples. :-)

  29. Mallory responded on 14 Feb 2012 at 9:40 am #

    I never look at the author of something I am reading at the frisky, until I have read it and judged it. My favorites always belong to you! Not so weird I suppose but it makes me smile, haha!

  30. Kate responded on 14 Feb 2012 at 11:46 am #

    Hey, thanks!! Made my day!

  31. Kate responded on 14 Feb 2012 at 11:48 am #

    YOU GUYS ARE ADORABLE. Thanks for pointing me to those photos!!

  32. Julie responded on 11 Jun 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    At 47, I have a master’s degree and a newly minted doctorate. I’ve almost always dated men who weren’t as smart as I am, but being very bright or having comparable degrees is no predictor whatsoever of compatibility, love or sexual attraction. I’m now happily in love with a truck driver who never finished college, a statement I never dreamed I’d ever make.

    He’s big and muscular, smart and well-spoken, comes over and cooks for us (and buys the groceries) every Sunday night, and understands me at a level I’ve never before experienced. In fact, it seemed so right when we first met and fell in love (internet) that I was suspicious and kept waiting for cracks to show. (My doctorate is in law – I’m savvy, not a naive bookworm.) He’s incredibly sexy, and he makes me laugh until my mascara runs down my face. People tell us, “You’re the most handsome couple! You two look great together!”

    I admit, it was hard to get past the trucker thing at first. I felt self-conscious and almost hoped he’d do or say something egregious so that I could end it and move on, despite the fact that I felt wonderful about him. I just wanted the other shoe to drop. Thank heavens I hung in there long enough to realize it wasn’t going to happen! I’d regret it forever if I lost him because of my own pride. I realized that a man’s credentials shouldn’t be a source of self-esteem for me. Being loved by a thoughtful, romantic, intelligent man is more than most women get, and I’d probably never find his like again.

    I’m a very lucky woman.

  33. Darma responded on 16 Jul 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    Sorry girls…every female I know that married a man that makes less money, either experienced a long period of resentment and at some point began to have an affair to fill the “respect” void or ended up in financial ruin. There is one friend that does very well and just married a few months ago; but, I hope her business continues to go well because if not and there is ever a heavy reliance on her husband to contribute significantly and he fails to meet her half way or pick up the slack–from years of knowing her–he’s toast.

  34. Dlws responded on 11 Oct 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    Men have married down since the beginning of marriage. Now that some females are the high-wage earner, we will see a rapid change in the spousal support laws and court rulings; the low-wage earner will be expected to pay the support.