Why Educated Women Are More Likely to Be (Happily) Married

attractive mature business woman, smiling
According to a Stephanie Coontz op-ed piece in the New York Times, for a woman seeking a satisfying relationship, there has never been a better time to be highly educated.

Men in the 1950s were threatened by the thought of a woman with more or even as much education as they had. But over the past 30 years, these prejudices have changed. “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.”

“Certainly, some guys are still threatened by a woman’s achievements,” the article continues. “But scaring these types off might be a good thing. The men most likely to feel emotional and physical distress when their wives have a higher status or income tend to be those who are more invested in their identity as breadwinners than as partners and who define success in materialistic ways. Both these traits are associated with lower marital quality.”

So if you’re a smart, strong, successful woman, what does this mean for you? Coontz breaks it down like, well, a certain dating coach for smart, strong, successful women:

“For a century, women have binged on romance novels that encouraged them to associate intimidation with infatuation; it’s no wonder that this emotional hangover still lingers. Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to reject the idea that the ideal man is taller, richer, more knowledgeable, more renowned or more powerful. The most important predictor of marital happiness for a woman is not how much she looks up to her husband but how sensitive he is to her emotional cues and how willing he is to share the housework and child-care. And those traits are often easier to find in a low-key guy than a powerhouse.

I am not arguing that women ought to “settle.” I am arguing that we can now expect more of a mate than we could when we depended on men for our financial security, social status and sense of accomplishment. But that requires ditching the Lois Lane syndrome, where we ignore the attractions and attention of Clark Kent because we’re so eager for the occasional fly-by from Superman.”

If you have a New York Times subscription, you can read the article here. If not, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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  1. 1

    Great thought! We have to  remember  a marriage is a  partnership…

    With that said, I like to think of marriage as a  bicycle.

    The man being the front wheel and the woman being the back wheel. The front wheel being the part of the bike that turns (make decisions) and the back wheel being the support of the bike. Without the front wheel the bike will be  difficult  to ride and vice versa.  

    An efficient  bicycle  needs both wheels to play their part to  properly  be  ridden, so as with marriage, couples need to both play their part in order to have a long lasting marriage.

  2. 2

    This is good news and tends to support what I’ve seen on the Left Coast.   Men seem to assess what you can bring to a marriage, including earning capacity, which is somewhat tied to education level.   It’s been an interesting experience because this is not what I experienced growing up.   It’s nice to know that someone might value my hard work— which has been very meaningful to me — and perhaps even see it as an asset!

  3. 3

    “The man being the front wheel and the woman being the back wheel. The front wheel being the part of the bike that turns (make decisions) and the back wheel being the support of the bike.” What is this? The 1950s? I doubt even the majority of women who read this blog want to ride that bicycle anymore. Even if they say they want a “traditional guy.”

  4. 4

    I found the list of what men look for in a woman nowadays rather depressing:

    No1) mutual attraction   – read “she’s really hot!”

    No  2)dependable character – read “but even so, she won’t cheat on me or even look at other guys”    

    No 3)emotional stability – read “and she smiles sweetly and never gets mad however  I behave or whatever I do”      

    Doesn’t sound like anything has really changed!


  5. 5
    Saint Stephen

    What is this? The 1950s? I doubt even the majority of women who read this blog want to ride that bicycle anymore. Even if they say they want a “traditional guy.

    But that is what they get if they want a traditional guy. A man who leads and makes decision – be it in a marriage or  cohabitation.  

  6. 6
    Saint Stephen

    I found the list of what men look for in a woman nowadays rather depressing:

    If you reverse it to a list of what women look for in a man nowadays – it gets more depressing. Especially for men.  

  7. 7


    Aren’t women looking for the same characteristics ?

    Going for 10s is what women do. Men are biologically programmed to set the bar lower so that they can spread their seed to as many viable females as possible. Most men are perfectly happy with a 6.

    Unfortunately most women are not attracted to “most” men.  

  8. 8

    @helene, nr 4

    I had to  chuckle at your interpretation of the list of things men seek in women, since my own interpretation was slightly different:

    No1) mutual attraction   — read “she’s not so ugly that I have to put a bag over her head when we have sex, and she’s not totally repulsed by me either”
    No  2)dependable character — read “when we plan a date, she shows up, and when we agree to be  exclusive she doesn’t date other men”    
    No 3)emotional stability – read “she’s not bipolar or borderline and does not yell at me / cry  for no particular reason”

    I have quite a few male friends, and when I ask them what they  seek in a relationship, they are much less demanding (and traditional) then my girlfriends.  I have to agree with Zaq  when he states that most men are happy with a 6.

  9. 9

    The fact that marriage is actually easier for more educated women concurs with other articles and studies I’ve read, and makes sense.  

    I agree that the bicycle analogy is hopelessly outdated for the  married couples i know. Most alternate who is in the front seat and who is in the back when it comes to decision making.  

    I also don’t ascribe the same negative characteristics to mutual attraction, dependable character, emotional stability, and intelligence. Sounds like the same things that are important to me in a partner.


  10. 10

    To me (I’m a guy):

    1) Mutual Attraction – she has some sort of sex appeal to me (not necessarily easy to find).   She hopefully places fitness high on the list and otherwise takes care of herself.   She is attracted to me thereby not making it seem like she is doing me a favor by having sex with me.   None of this  is to tantamount  to “I want a 10”.   Just something that works for me and hopefully I work for her.

    2) Dependable Character – she is not overly obsessed with herself and has the ability to empathize.   She understands that it’s not always going to be good times and can roll with the punches.

    3) Emotional Stability – see above post re: bipolar.   I’ll add keeping the drama at manageable levels to this.

    Helene, I am not calling you bitter because I don’t know you but  at the very least you’re post  rings of bitterness.

    I’d like to add an experience I’m going through right now if you’ll allow me to indulge but also because I think it’s relevant for this particular blog.

    I’ve recently been communicating with a girl I met online.   She has all the qualities possessed by the superficial male (as Seinfeld puts it).   Thin, big  fake you know whats, beautiful hair, stylish, she’s done modeling and has pictures on the Internet,  etc.   The prototypical arm candy if you will.   I remember writing to this girl a year ago and being summarily ignored but as luck would have it, she didn’t ignore me now.   Maybe it’s the better pictures I put up since then flaunting whatever few attributes I have…who knows.

    Anywho, this girl is not only superficially pleasing but highly educated as well.   In fact, she’s working on her second master’s degree.  

    At this point if I were actually talking you would be able to notice my enthusiasm at this prospect or more accurately, my lack of enthusiasm…

    While she is the type of girl I fantasize about physically and hope beyond hope that I find a girl that looks like a pornstar but is also sophisticated, classy, and elegant, every experience brings me closer to the realization that it is exactly that – a fantasy (of course I already knew this I’m just stating it for effect).

    My few phone conversations with her have consisted of her telling me about all of the bad crap that has happened to her in overly dramatic fashion and  barely asking anything about me.   It’s apparent that she is using school as an excuse to not work (she’s 36 and substitute teaches on occasion, still lives with her parents).  

    Am I going to meet her?   Yeah probably because let’s face it, the superficial is a strong attraction to go on at first.   Am I going to take her serious, probably not.   And also knowing myself, I’m not very good at stringing girls along just to have sex so I’m not even sure I’ll get anything out of this except a cup of coffee but we’ll see.

    I’m still recuperating from a one and done date I had a month ago with a beautiful, classy, smart  mother of one who didn’t give me a second date.   You would think this recent girl would be  the perfect distraction; instead it’s reinforcing my disappointment in not getting a chance to explore something with the other girl.  

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that education is great and for the most part probably adds to what a woman can potentially bring to the table.   However, a sense of emotional maturity and humility (yes even from the beautiful ones) is what really makes a woman a “10”.

    A woman that possesses smarts, beauty (at least to some degree), and sophistication is so very rare to find and in the world of online dating, has the world by the balls.   It is what allows her to reject a guy like me that (I would hope and think) has a lot to offer.   Not sure it’s possible to find a girl like this online.   Not because they’re not out there but the odds are just too great.   Too much competition.   But I digress…

    1. 10.1

      I really like your post. You made me realize that not all the online people are superficial and there are still good men looking for real women!

  11. 11

    Hespeler, #10,
    …education is great and for the most part probably adds to what a woman can potentially bring to the table.   However, a sense of emotional maturity and humility (yes even from the beautiful ones) is what really makes a woman a “10”³.

    I like this. A real man looking for a real woman.

    I also rather liked Barnett’s bicycle reference. Even though saying anything remotely close to a man being a leader for his wife and family rubs some the wrong way, many people still live by and welcome a man taking the front wheel of the bike. Both wheels are necessary and equally valuable.
    The more education and experience both partners have, the better. I think that’s the point.

  12. 12

    From my experience and like you stated but then back paddled about women settling is BS. I have been with women who have really powerful status and careers and at the time I was unemployed. The reason we got together was because of the way I made them feel not because what was in my wallet. If you meet her core values she won’t care where you work (You should have a job) and what you look like.

  13. 13

    I am a successful physician who lives well. In the past, I would have been content with a woman who did not bring much to the table as far as earning power goes. However, since I started reading about the dangers and ramifications of divorce, I have shifted towards dating women in my profession. I am currently talking with a beautiful woman, a surgeon, and we seem to be doing well.  
    This goes to reinforce the view that educated women might be getting a good deal after all.   

  14. 14

    Let me suggest that something else is going on here.
    Someone who goes to graduate school has more likely than not got decent analytical skills and is a planner who sees life in terms of decades, not months or years. This person is also a worrier who gets the paperwork in on time and then bites his or her nails till the envelope comes in the mail — or maintains a conscious anti-nailbiting strategy.
    These are people who mean to have something in the bank when they’re old. To raise children well and with many advantages, particularly educational advantages. This takes money, stability, and emotional support. In other words, the presence of two parents committed to both career and childrearing.
    Young people just out of grad school, or still in, may see marriage as romantic etc. But as they get older I think they recognized that this is something most of them were socialized to as a wealth-preservation model and means of grooming children for success. And they see this when they begin to pay attention to the costs of divorce and single parenting: socially, physically, emotionally, and economically.
    I spent part of today with a successful young family: two high-prestige-career professionals from top schools with two young children. The woman’s committed partial career suicide to throw herself into the children’s education while keeping her career on life support, and she worries about this appropiately. The man often irritates the woman deeply. Will they divorce? Oh, I doubt it. They’re completely focused on and committed to childrearing and, when it comes down to it, solidifying their hold on an upper-middle-class way of life. It’s a very difficult thing to do as single parents. Certainly the kids wouldn’t get the attention the get now, and neither would their education.
    I think they are happy. Not because they’re always happy with each other, but because they want the same things, they like each other, and they work very, very well together.   Three-quarters of the conversation between them that I hear starts, “______, would you please — ” and the other one does.

  15. 15

    Hespeler 10 – I agree with most of what you say, but here is your text:
    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that education is great and for the most part probably adds to what a woman can potentially bring to the table.   However, a sense of emotional maturity and humility (yes even from the beautiful ones) is what really makes a woman a “10”³.
    I would like to edit out the paragraph (yes even from the beautiful  ones).   This is truly discriminating.
    Why would a man assume that a beautiful woman is emotionally immature and arrogant (opposite of humility, isn’t it?)
    If I hear one more time that beautiful women are bitches/emotional immature/ and lack humility, I swear I’ll scream injustice.
    Or just leave all the ugly women to it.   Enjoy them – they ain’t ugly for nothing.

  16. 16
    Karl R

    judy asked: (#15)
    “Why would a man assume that a beautiful woman is emotionally immature and arrogant”
    That’s not how I interpreted hepseler’s statement.
    He’s not assuming that beautiful women are immature and arrogant. But if they are emotionally immature and arrogant, he’s not going to overlook it even if they’re beautiful.
    There are no shortage of men and women who will put up with an arrogant, immature, uncaring and even abusive girlfriend or boyfriend, just because of how physically attractive that girlfriend or boyfriend is.
    judy said:  (#15)
    “If I hear one more time that beautiful women are bitches/emotional immature/ and lack humility, I swear I’ll scream injustice.”
    Let’s flip this around. Do you think that (on average) beautiful people are inherently more kind, emotionally mature and humble than their more average counterparts?
    To a large extent, physical beauty is determined by our genetics. Our character is primarily determined by our upbringing, experiences and choices. I can see no reason why an accident of genetics should improve my character.
    Physical beauty can be affected by some internal traits. It could indicate discipline, since a certain amount of discipline is required to obtain a sculpted body. It could also indicate vanity, since vanity provides a motive to put in the effort.
    On the other hand, people’s internal traits can be affected by their physical appearance.
    Read this letter again:
    According to the letter writer, this man cheats on her and treats her with disrespect. Why does she stay with him? He’s devastatingly handsome. If an average-looking man treated this woman the same way, she would dump the average man.
    If you act like a shallow, immature bitch, people will treat you worse in return. Your friends will avoid you. One of the reasons you (and I) treat people decently is because there are unpleasant consequences if we don’t. It’s probably not the only reason, but it’s one of our motives.
    Why is Paris Hilton a shallow, immature bitch? No matter how badly she acts, there are crowds of people (including complete strangers) who surround her and tell her how amazing and wonderful she is. Her bad behavior has few consequences.
    Some beautiful people begin acting worse … because they can.
    You can get offended, but there is some basic human nature (which applies to all of us) which is at work here.

  17. 17
    Sparkling Emerald

    Haven’t read the whole thread or even the post Karl R was responding too, but I have found more undesiriable behavior in more people who were very good looking, and more desirable behavior in people who are attractive, but not devastatingly so.   And I’m not proud to say it, but I have tolerated more bad behavior from very attractive men. (But I have FINALLY learned to STOP DOING THAT !!!)
    Society tends to hand the world on a silver platter to the devastatingly good looking people in the world.   They tend to get more passes on their bad behavior.   (I’ve been guilty of giving those passes)   And while nothing is 100% true for 100% of the people in any given group   (in this case, extremely good looking people) I have observed that the best relationship partners tend to be people who are fairly attractive   (in good shape, pleasant facial features, groom well) but aren’t drop dead gorgeous.   They are attractive enough to be desirable, but not so good looking that they can get away with a whole lot of bad behavior.

  18. 18

    You sound like, and I’m sure you are, a lovely guy, but I hope you get a great deal more self-confidence and self-esteem – as Evan writes, it is hands-down one of the most attractive qaulities to high quality women.
    Please ditch the women who look like porn stars, and even the women whose main attraction is that they are “interesting” and “well educated” and look for the women with character… And please get over the girl you had one date with who didn’t turn into a second date… brush it off, it’s called dating!

  19. 19

    I think if the woman is better educated or makes a lot more than the man in a relationship, the man should be better at something, and that something should be an area both agree are of high value.   For example, he could be a better caregiver, or more artistic, or physically stronger and they both enjoy that, or better at managing the money.   Or he can have a specific area like engineering and she doesn’t like math.   She may have a higher degree but he still has an expertise.   I think it’s hard for men to marry women who are better than they are at just about everything and its pretty clear he has no true domain.   He needs to feel needed and like he is providing something useful to the relationship.   Being well educated is great for women; where women mess up is letting it take over all areas of the relationship and not letting the man have any control because she thinks she knows best.   I’ve seen a couple of relationships end when the woman is better educated.   I don’t think it’s because the man resents the education itself but because she had a tendency to lord it over him subtly or directly when they disagreed.

  20. 20

    Karl 16 – the voice of reason again. Thank you.   I did read the post again which you gave in the link.
    Beauty? Is rather subjective.   Oddly enough, before going onto the blog, I met a colleague who is, wait for it, devastatingly handsome, kind, intelligent, sweet, patient, rich and a real sweetie.   He’s also married but that didn’t stop him from hugging me close when my mother died.   He’s beautiful inside and outside too.   It does exist.
    Yes, some people may be genetically rather spoilt – including some of the celebrities.   I always cringe when I hear the automatic “bet she’s a bitch” when the woman is………really really attractive (or, for that matter, the man).
    But you make some good points and it is always great to hear from you.
    Thank God for the gentlemen on here.

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