Plenty of Fish . . . For Now

April 2, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

In 1950s, the stereotype was that girls went to college not so much to get a B.A. but to get an M.R.S.  Not such a bad idea, says Susan Patton.  She’s the Princeton alumna whose letter of advice to undergraduate women was published in The Daily Princetonian:
Find a husband on campus before you graduate.
There was much reaction – pro (WSJ) and con (HufPo and just about everyone else).  (Patton has since been on TV, and the traffic to get her letter online crashed The Daily Princetonian’s Website.)
Oddly, none of these responses – at least the ones I’ve seen – addresses the basic question with actual data.  Is there no empirical evidence on this? Hasn’t anyone done a survey of women who went to elite universities?  Such a survey would surely have included a question on how you met your husband and how old you were when you got married.  And surely there would be outcome variables – satisfaction with different areas of life, including marriage.* 

We do know some facts. On the whole, college-educated women are delaying marriage.  Presumably, the longer they wait after graduation, the less likely it is that they are marrying a college sweetheart.  According to Patton, that strategy is a loser.  Yet at the same time, divorce rates among the college educated women are declining.  As for their happiness in those marriages, I can’t even guess. The GSS shows no clear trend. 

But the Ns are small, (40-60 through the 1990s, and after that, on average, about 100), and the categories (“Very happy,” “Pretty happy,” “Not too happy”) may not capture the full range of how women feel about their marriages. 
Besides “college educated” is not the same as “Princeton educated,” and Patton says explicitly that the reason for finding your husband at Princeton is that you want to be sure to marry not just any college graduate but someone who is at least as smart as you.
Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again--you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.
(You can see why some people thought Patton was just a tad elitist.)

Haven’t we been here before?  Yes we have. Readers of a certain age may remember the 1986 Newsweek article that caused a similar stir.  I think the article focused on Yale women for its journalistic anecdotes, but the statistical conclusion – the line that went as viral as a line could go in the pre-Internet age –  was that if a college-educated woman was still single at age forty, she had a lower probability of getting married than of “being killed by a terrorist.”  And that was before anyone had heard of Al Qaeda. 

As with the Patton letter, there was much criticism of the article and its conclusions.  And Newsweek issued a retraction . . .  twenty years later.

 * Sources who know much more about this than I do (Philip Cohen) suggest that some surveys like the NFSH might have trend data on these questions.
UPDATE April 4:  Philip has culled the ACS for data on the education level of husbands and wives.  His findings with graphs are here.

1 comment:

arnie said...

The movie "Mona Lisa Smile" addresses the issue of the educated woman head on: