In yet another indication the future is female, men are more likely to “marry up” to a woman these days, according to a new study. Forget those decades-old stereotypes of men being the “breadwinner”—those reflected societal pressures and structural obstacles that are falling by the wayside. Now it’s the men who are marrying into money.
University of Kansas’s ChangHwan Kim and Texas A&M’s Arthur Sakamoto co-authored the study and published the results in the journal Demography. These authors examined gender-specific changes in income and marriage from hundreds of thousands of Americans aged 35 to 44, with U.S. Census data from 1990 and 2000 and data from the 2009-2011 American Community Survey.*
“The pattern of marriage and its economic consequences have changed over time,” Kim said in a press release about the study. “Now women are more likely to get married to a less-educated man.”
The news comes as the gender gap in college education has narrowed and even reversed. In 1967, 13 percent of men 25 years or older had at least a Bachelor’s degree, compared to just 8 percent of women, according to the U.S. Census. In 2015, the men’s rate had risen to 32 percent, and the women’s rate had risen to 33 percent.
Plus, the percentage of women in the workforce is growing by the year, as well. In 1950, only 30 percent was female. That rate had hit 47 percent by 2000 and is projected to reach 48 percent by 2050, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.
Appalling gender gaps still exist, of course. In 2016, women working full-time were typically paid 80 percent of what their male counterparts were paid, according to the AAUW. And the Center for American Progress reports women hold only 19 percent of board seats and 5 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. Women are still leaving the workforce in droves (and opting down into non leadership-track roles) during pivotal advancement years due to lack of flexibility and are often unable to re-enter at their same salary and title. As a result, the wage gap actually widens to about 43 percent by age 45.
Still, because women are more likely to be higher-educated than their husbands, and because men are getting less return on their educations, men are contributing less to the family income while women are contributing more overall.
“It seems fine for men because their wife is now bringing more income to the household,” Kim said. “One implication of these findings is that the importance of marriage market has increased for men’s total economic well-being … When we consider family dynamics, men are getting the benefit from women’s progress.”
We see this with flexibility as well—when women advocate for increased flexibility, men benefit from these policies too, getting more freedom to become equal contributors at home. Rigid workplace structures tend to reinforce traditional gender roles, both at work and at home (where women still take on the bulk of chores and caregiving responsibilities), but as as flexibility becomes the norm for both male and female employees, we’ll likely see both genders gain and benefit from increased work-life compatibility—no matter who the primary breadwinner is.
These cultural shifts worry Fox News contributor Suzanne Venker, who writes, “Pretending that women surpassing men educationally and financially is a good thing—because we’re enlightened now and believe in equality—is foolish. Every married couple feels ‘equal’ or the same, until the kids arrive. It is afterward that our differences become glaring.” (Then again, Venker is the author of essays called “Is Equality Ruining Your Marriage?” and “Real Men Don’t Marry Feminists,” so…)
Jezebel’s Tracy Moore, however, suggests that every couple find its own balance, and yes, that balance might involve glaring differences that subvert gendered expectations. “It's a matter of chemistry and like-mindedness and shared values,” Moore writes. “I cannot stress enough, this is what an equal is—you'll definitely know it when you find it, and it will have nothing to do with gender.”