TODAY women earn almost 60 percent of all bachelor's degrees and more than half of master's and Ph.D.'s. Many people believe that, while this may be good for women as income earners, it bodes ill for their marital prospects.
As Kate Bolick wrote in a much-discussed article in The Atlantic last fall, American women face "a radically shrinking pool of what are traditionally considered to be 'marriageable' men — those who are better educated and earn more than they do." Educated women worry that they are scaring away potential partners, and pundits claim that those who do marry will end up with unsatisfactory matches. They point to outdated studies suggesting that women with higher earnings than their husbands do more housework to compensate for the threat to their mates' egos, and men who earn less than their wives are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction.
Is this really the fate facing educated heterosexual women: either no marriage at all or a marriage with more housework and less sex? Nonsense. That may have been the case in the past, but no longer. For a woman seeking a satisfying relationship as well as a secure economic future, there has never been a better time to be or become highly educated.
For more than a century, women often were forced to choose between an education and a husband. Of women who graduated from college before 1900, more than three-quarters remained single. As late as 1950, one-third of white female college graduates ages 55 to 59 had never married, compared with only 7 percent of their counterparts without college degrees.
Some of these women chose to stay single, of course, and that choice has always been easier and more rewarding for educated women. But the low marriage rates of educated women in the past were also because of the romantic and sexual prejudices of men. One physician explained the problem in Popular Science Monthly in 1905: An educated woman developed a "self-assertive, independent character" that made it "impossible to love, honor and obey" as a real wife should. He warned that as more middle-class women attended college, middle-class men would look to the lower classes to find uneducated wives.
That is exactly what happened in the mid-20th century. From 1940 to the mid-1970s, the tendency for men to marry down educationally became more pronounced and the cultural ideal of hypergamy — that women must marry up — became more insistent.
Postwar dating manuals advised women to "play dumb" to catch a man — and 40 percent of college women in one survey said they actually did so. As one guidebook put it: "Warning! ... Be careful not to seem smarter than your man." If you hide your intelligence, another promised, "you'll soon become the little woman to be pooh-poohed, patronized and wed."
Insulting as it may have been, such advice was largely sound. Studying national surveys on mate preferences, David M. Buss, a psychologist at the University of Texas, and his colleagues found that in 1956, education and intelligence were together ranked 11th among the things men sought in a mate. Much more important to them was finding a good cook and housekeeper who was refined, neat and had a pleasing disposition. By 1967, education and intelligence had moved up only one place, to No. 10, on men's wish lists.
Men in the postwar period were threatened by the thought of a woman with more or even as much education as they had. One man who taught at a women's college in the 1950s told me his colleagues used to joke that once they knew a woman had earned a Ph.D., they didn't even need to ask what she had specialized in: clearly, it was in "Putting Hubby Down."
But over the past 30 years, these prejudices have largely disappeared. By 1996, intelligence and education had moved up to No. 5 on men's ranking of desirable qualities in a mate. The desire for a good cook and housekeeper had dropped to 14th place, near the bottom of the 18-point scale. The sociologist Christine B. Whelan reports that by 2008, men's interest in a woman's education and intelligence had risen to No. 4, just after mutual attraction, dependable character and emotional stability.
30多年过去了，这些偏见大部分已经不复存在了。1996年时，智力和教育状况已经上升到男人寻求伴侣理想的品质排名的第5 位。找一位厨师和家庭主妇已经降到第14位，接近一共18个排名的底部了。社会学家克里斯汀·威尔兰（Christine B. Whelan）称，2008年时男性对女性的教育和智力状况的兴趣已经上升到第4位了，仅次于彼此的吸引、可靠的品质和稳定的情感。
The result has been a historic reversal of what the economist Elaina Rose calls the "success" penalty for educated women. By 2008, the percentage of college-educated white women ages 55 to 59 who had never been married was down to 9 percent, just 3 points higher than their counterparts without college degrees. And among women 35 to 39, there was no longer any difference in the percentage who were married.