Last week, the NYT published an article discussing a trend that would have been unthinkable forty years ago: men between the ages of 30 and 44 are increasingly likelier to marry wives with more education and income than they have. Although this seems logical, considering the fact that women’s earnings have risen steadily since 1970, the article went on to detail the insecurity and instability that comes with being an intelligent, independent woman in today’s dating scene, despite the fact that “women with college degrees are still more likely to marry today than less educated women.”
But today’s NYT brought a ray of optimism to the bleak outlook that most newspapers and magazines like to drive home (we really don’t need more articles with cheerful endings like this: “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?”). Tara Parker-Pope reiterated the statistics that sparked the first article: “In nearly a third of marriages, the wife is better educated than her husband. And though men, over all, still earn more than women, wives are now the primary breadwinner in 22 percent of couples, up from 7 percent in 1970.”
But, Parker-Pope writes, these changes have a surprising effect: rather than causing the angst, jealousy and instability described in last week’s article, they are actually contributing to lowered divorce rates and happier marriages. Could it be possible that men can actually handle well-educated, ambitious, intelligent women? The evidence certainly seems to be pointing in that direction. As women’s earnings have increased, divorce rates have fallen. It’s not just women who are winning in terms of happiness – both men and women are benefiting, and as a result, their marriages are healthier.
Certainly, there are challenges that come with these sea-changes in gender roles. Parker-Pope writes that “even among dual-earning couples, women still do about two-thirds of the housework, on average, according to the University of Wisconsin National Survey of Families and Households.” Women have trouble ceding their role as the primary parent, and men still may not contribute equally in the domestic sphere. But men do help far more than they used to. Studies show that since the 1960s, men’s contributions to housework have doubled, while the amount of time spent caring for children has tripled.
Overall, Parker-Pope’s article is a refreshing breath of air, showing that equal marriages do work best for both partners. And she also points out that, especially during the recession, many couples don’t have the luxury of worrying about gender roles – whichever spouse can earn the most, should. The specter of the threatening, financially independent woman trying to usurp power from her husband doesn’t seem to be as relevant anymore. Instead, marriages don’t have to rely on strict spheres for men and women – they can be more flexible, and women can be the primary breadwinners while men take over the domestic sphere, or both spouses can try to share both loads more equitably. And, well, everyone seems to be happier.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.