By Caryl Rivers
Friday, August 13, 2010
We've had the latest salvo about careers and romance not mixing for women. This time it's from Camille Paglia. Why don't any of these writers take a look at the data, asks Caryl Rivers? In reality, the "marriage penalty" for high-achieving women is disappearing.
In 2002, Sylvia Ann Hewlett presented a study of high-achieving women who weren't marrying or having children at the same rates as other women. In her book "Creating a Life," she helped to create panic among successful women: "Nowadays, the rule of thumb seems to be that the more successful the woman, the less likely it is she will find a husband or bear a child." She argued that high-achieving women who were still single at age 30 had a less than 10 percent chance of ever marrying.
Such stories prompted women to believe that they have to appear less intelligent than they are, reports sociologist Christine B. Whelan of the University of Pittsburgh. In her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" she writes that nearly half of single women believe their professional success is intimidating to the men they meet. High-achieving women think their success is not helping them find love. She finds that 66 percent of single women achievers in one survey disagreed with the statement "My career or educational success increases my chances of getting married."
This notion inspired a "Sex and the City" episode. Miranda, the high-powered lawyer, tells a man she meets at a speed-dating party that she's a flight attendant so he won't bolt in fear.
But this media spin is so wrong.
Take the "fact" that women with high IQs are "too smart to marry," as The Atlantic magazine put it. Almost none of the stories with the scare headlines reported that the data were gathered from men and women born in 1921. The women are all now in their 80s.
Should a study of octogenarian women be taken as the reality of today's young people? Of course not.
What about the Forbes.com story that men who marry career women are unhappy and the Paglia notion that achieving women are sexless grinds?
Real data suggests just the opposite. One longitudinal study of 500 couples by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Janet Hyde found that for both men and women, the highest sexual satisfaction was among couples who both worked and experienced high rewards from their jobs. A good job, it seems, is good for your sex life.
Paglia admires country music, "still filled with blazingly raunchy scenarios, where the sexes remain dynamically polarized in the old-fashioned way." So how come every other song is about misery, desertion, cheating hearts and lost loves? The old gender roles hardly guarantee great sex. And as for her fantasy about the fun office of the past--where men and women happily flirted--she hasn't read the data about sexual harassment in the good old days.
She might also want to watch an episode of "Mad Men," the TV series about ad executives in the 1960s. Young people, in particular, tend to be shocked by the disparaging treatment of women that gets portrayed there.
The fact is that men are not avoiding smart women. Sociologist Valerie Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles reported that contemporary men are choosing as mates women who have completed their education. The more education a woman has, the more likely she is to marry.
Economist Elaina Rose at the University of Washington in Seattle has followed the diminishing marriage "success penalty" that women once suffered. Twenty-five years ago, a woman with a graduate degree was 13.5 percent less likely to have married at age 40 to 44 than a woman with only a high school diploma. By the 2000 Census, however, that penalty had largely disappeared.
But don't expect these facts to spoil the media's love affair with the notion of a high-achieving woman sacrificing her sex appeal. Having both love and money is apparently an expectation that only guys are supposed to have.
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Caryl Rivers, professor of journalism at Boston University is the author (with Rosalind C. Barnett of Brandeis) of the book "Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children and Our Jobs."
Excerpt: 'Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women,' ABC News:
By Caryl Rivers
By Caryl Rivers
By Rivers and Barnett