Friday, February 16, 2007

Luke and Logan

I have been watching "Gilmore Girls" faithfully with Mrs. G. and our girls since its inception. I have enjoyed the show's wit, speed, and it must be said, fine-looking women. This season, the last, is probably the weakest. Still, we must watch, to see how they resolve the two great marriage plots of Lorelei (mother) and Rory (daughter) Gilmore.

As a sociologist I have particularly enjoyed "Gilmore Girls" because it is one of the very few ever to show rich people as more than caricatures. Lorelei's parents are Connecticut Old Money. Lorelei has both resisted this influence, and benefited from it. Her main romance has been with local working-class diner owner Luke. However, rich-boy Christopher, the boyfriend of her teen days who fathered Rory, has returned as a rival. Meanwhile young Rory, at Yale, has been torn over the years between hard-working scholarship boy Marty and reckless rich kid Logan.

At the beginning of this season, Christopher swept Lorelei off her feet, took her to Paris, and talked her into eloping. Logan, meanwhile, has been off in London learning the family business, leaving Rory in school at Yale.

I think the conventions of television require that both titular girls end up married. At this point in the series, the real contestants are on the field. SO, accepting these assumptions, there are four possible outcomes for mother's and daughter's husbands, respectively:
1) rich, rich
2) rich, poor
3) poor, rich
4) poor, poor.

The writers have it in their hands to make any of these men sympathetic enough – to make them, in other words, the right choice. The playing field was level at the start of the season.

I would have been most interested if the writers had had the nerve to take the first solution – rich, rich – which would in many ways have been the most class appropriate. Mrs. G. argued, though, that this is just not possible in American television world, and I think she is right.

At some other moment in history it might have been possible to take the fourth option – poor, poor – though it is hard for me to think when that might have been. The novel, movie, and television examples I can think of from the past usually have at least one of the heroines ending up with money.

So we are left with the middle two as the most likely. On the whole, I have been thinking the most likely outcome was 3 – poor Luke, and rich Logan. Some clues at the outset were that both men were more central to the last few seasons than their counterparts. Moreover, in the recent crisis of Lorelei's father's heart attack, the suitors got to show their true character, and Luke and Logan came through with shining colors.

I think this solution is, on the whole, the most appropriate. The rebellious independent woman finds the person who matches her entrepreneurial character and the place she has made for herself in the community. Thus, Lorelei and Luke. And the reckless rich kid is civilized by the ever-decent, and ultimately socially conforming granddaughter of her Old Money grandparents. Therefore, Rory and Logan. American individualism is honored, but in the end family and tradition win, in updated form.

We will see how the string plays out. That is my call.

Smart Men Marry Smart Women 5: The Deeper Point

Christine Whelan thinks the main point is that smart women marry at the same rate as other women, just later in life. This is an important point, and probably true or nearly true. The deeper issue than whether smart women will marry, though, is whether they can get all the education their brains can use, and launch their high-achieving careers, and still have kids at the same rate as other women.

I think smart men are coming to see that women who want lots of education and high-powered careers can also have kids – and given the right supportive husband, they will have great kids.

Whelan approaches marriage as being primarily about the man and the woman. The deep sociobiological, social, and, for most couples, personal impetus for marriage, though, is to have and raise children. There have always been highly educated and high-achieving women. Until recently, though, that path did present very high obstacles to having and raising children. The women knew it, and the men they might marry feared it. One solution has been happy childless marriages of high achieving partners. These are fine marriages, and I am not in any way disparaging them. But most men, and especially most women, do wish to have a life with children, integrated with all their other work.

Whelan notes in passing what others who have studied high-achieving mothers make central to their research (especially if the researchers are themselves high-achieving moms): you need lots of help. Nearly all mothers who successfully raise children have helpful husbands, or the functional equivalent. Many of the women Hewlett interviewed at the highest levels of their careers bluntly say that in addition to a supportive husband they needed to "hire a wife." This seems to me a reasonable solution, and being that nanny is as honorable a kind of work as the professional careers she enables.

The deeper point of why smart men marry smart women more than they used to is that both of them realize that they can still have their smart careers and have smart children.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Smart Men Marry Smart Women 4: The Baby Elephant in the Room

The critical issue for high-achieving women is not so much whether they will ever marry, as whether they will ever have children.

As I noted yesterday, Christine Whelan is arguing, in Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women with Sylvia Ann Hewlett. Hewlett reported in Creating a Life that at midlife, 1/3 to 1/2 of the highest-achieving women had no children, vs. about 1/5 of other women. Whelan disputes that there is a gap at all, citing an article by Garance Franke-Ruta in The American Prospect. Franke-Ruta contrasts a Current Population Survey analysis with Hewlett's more focused National Parenting Association survey. According to Franke-Ruta, the CPS shows that married high-achieving women are just as likely to be mothers as other married women. The reason that other women have more kids altogether is that the high achievers are less likely to have kids out of wedlock than other women are.

So what does this comparison mean? Let us take it as given that high-achieving women do marry at about the same rate as other women, and the married women among them have kids at about the same rate as other married women. That is not quite the end of the story. Hewlett also reports that a large minority of the high-achieving women who did have a child wished that they had started early enough to have more. And even Whelan takes for granted that if high-achieving women have kids, nannies and day care are a "given." Yet most mothers would like to be home with their babies, even if they want to return to full-time work later. This, I think, is why Hewlett found that 1/5 of professionally trained women were not working in their professions – most were home with their kids at that stage in life.

That last point is a crucial one: Hewlett does not say that women have to choose either high achievement or marriage and kids – as Whelan charges her with. Rather, Hewlett says that women can have it all – education, marriage, kids, career – but probably not all at once. If they plan, they can have it all eventually, but some things have to come before others. And the most imperious item on the list is having kids. The biological clock is less forgiving than the timetable for any other item on the list.

I think Whelan, who is 30 and proudly announces her engagement in the Acknowledgements, has not had to deal with the tragic sense of baby hunger that Hewlett's 50-something high achievers have. Whelan quotes with approval from Ann, an unmarried 30-year-old medical resident:
"As a doctor, I'd advise women to think about having their kids when they are younger, in their early 20s. But this just isn't practical for high-achieving women. And it's a disconnect that lies in our biological challenge of reproduction."

As Hewlett shows, the brave reliance of younger women on medical technology (and wishful thinking) to solve the problem of finding husbands and having babies after school and career are well-launched is setting many of them up for heartache.

You can have it all, but not all at once. The main issue is not whether smart women will find smart men to marry, but whether both of them will find one another in time to have smart kids.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Smart Men Marry Smart Women 3: The Main Point

"High-achieving women marry at the same rate as all other women; they just do so a bit later in life."

This is the main point of Christine Whelan's Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women. Whelan looked at the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, and the work of U. of Washington economist Elaina Rose on the decreased likelihood that educated women would marry. Rose found that 25 years ago, women with graduate degrees were 13.5% less likely to have married by 40 than the least educated (less than high school) women. By the 2000 census, Rose found, the "success penalty" had largely disappeared. The CPS shows that women with advanced degrees and/or who earned $55,000 per year or more (in the top 10% of earners nationally) are just as likely to be married as other women who work full time.

Whelan is arguing against Sylvia Ann Hewlett, whose Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children brought the scary news that the highest achieving women were less likely to marry and have children. Hewlett showed a strong success penalty; Whelan says it has disappeared. How can we judge between the two?

First, they can both be right on the main point: there used to be a success penalty, but it has diminished. Hewlett, reporting mid-90s data, showed that the highest-educated and highest-paid women were only 60% married at 40, vs. 67% of all women. This is a gap, but not a huge one. It is plausible that a decade later, most of this gap has closed.

Second, Whelan compares high-achieving women with other women who work full time. Most women, especially highly educated ones, do work full time, so this is not a bad comparison. It is, though, not the same as comparing all women. Hewlett found that a fifth of highly educated women were not working full time. A real apples-to-apples comparison would have to include all women.

Third, and most importantly, the main point of Hewlett's book was that the highest achieving women miss having children, not marriage. Most of the high-achieving women that she talked to, especially the ultra-high achievers (earning more than $100,000 per year) had no children or fewer than they wanted to. Few of them had planned to end up that way; childlessness was a "creeping non-choice," the unintended outcome of a high career focus through their main childbearing years.

High-achieving women are marrying at higher rates. Whether they are having as many kids as they want to is another matter. And the subject for tomorrow's post.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Smart Men Marry Smart Women 2: SWANS Won't Fly

Christine Whelan begins Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women with a cute story. She describes Beth, who took out an ad in 1970 looking for a man who wasn't afraid of a "Ph.D. in a miniskirt." She found her man. She then wrote a couple of bestsellers: A Baby … Maybe? about educated women choosing to have children, or not, and Boy or Girl? about sex selection. Then Beth and her husband had a child. The birth announcement reproduced the two book covers, with "Yes" in answer the first title, and "Girl" circled in the second.

Christine Whelan is that child.

Whelan's best shot at pop sociological immortality of her own is the acronym SWANS – Strong Women Achievers, No Spouse. She even holds the trademark on the acronym and phrase; the title page notes that they appear in this book under license.

There are several interesting findings and ideas in this book, but I don't think SWANS will be one of them. For one thing, it is too cutesy. She has to torque the phrase too much to fit the acronym she wanted to get to. For another, the point of her book is to offer hope to SWANS that they don't have to stay that way. Those promised Smart Men will come along and turn them into SWAWS, which just doesn't have the same sizzle.

SMMSW doesn't sing, either.

How about Smart Women And Men, Paired?

And then the next stage, Smart Women And Men, Parents? But that will be the subject of a later post.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Smart Men Marry Smart Women 1

For years I have been telling students that smart men marry smart women. I mean that in a double sense. On the one hand, men who are smart and well educated tend to marry women who are smart and well educated. On the other, if a man is smart, he will look past physical appearance, which fades, to brains – because brains endure. Men who figure this out early get first pick of the smartest women.

In fact, today is the day in the sociology of family life class when we first talk about this idea. It will not be the last time.

Christine Whelan has just published Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women. As you can see, this was "must reading" for me, even if we are in the middle of the term. Whelan presents some interesting new research showing a change in the marriage patterns of the most educated women, a change for the better. I will be blogging on this book, and this idea, all week.

Today I just want to share one finding from a Harris Interactive poll that Whelan commissioned for the book. In answer to the question, do you want (or have) a spouse who is less capable of earning a good income than you, as capable of earning a good income as you, or more capable of earning a good income than you?

About 61% of the women say "as capable of earning a good income as me";

Among the men, there is a bell curve, with a quarter saying "more," a quarter saying "less," and half in the middle.

Here is the most interesting finding, though: among single men, 73% say they want a wife as capable of earning a good income as they are. Only 3% say she should be less capable. This bodes well for high-achieving women.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Presbyterian Schism Begins in Earnest

This week the New Wineskins Association of Churches met at First Presbyterian Church in Orlando to discuss leaving the Presbyterian Church (USA) and joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Officially, they were lamenting how unfaithful the PC (USA) is, and the EPC was there to "stand with" the New Wineskins dissidents. But the main agenda was clear. In fact, it is clear that New Wineskins, which began as a conservative ginger group, has turned into the main vehicle of the schism. The leaders of New Wineskins and the EPC have been talking about a merger since at least the 2006 General Assembly, which adopted the Peace, Unity, and Purity report.

151 congregations have signed on to the New Wineskins essential tenets. 130 of them sent representatives to the Orlando meeting. The EPC has 182 congregations with 75, 000 members. This compares to the 11,000 congregations and over 2 million members of the PC (USA). The EPC appeals to dissidents in the mainline denomination more than the larger Presbyterian Church of America does because the EPC will (in theory) ordain women, while the PCA will not.

New Wineskins has sensibly not insisted that its member churches leave the Presbyterian Church (USA), nor that they join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Instead, co-moderator Dean Weaver proposed two "faithful options": leave the denomination for a better one, or stay in place as a dissident congregation (which is what they are doing now).

The EPC, for its part, has made a sensible proposal as well. They invite any New Wineskins congregations, as well as other dissident congregations not part of New Wineskins, to form a non-geographical New Wineskins Presbytery for a five-year transitional period.

I don't think all the New Wineskins churches will leave the PC (USA), nor even all the congregations that sent representatives to the Orlando meeting. Still, if even half of them join the EPC, they will make the latter denomination half again larger. And the New Wineskins leaders will go from marginalized dissidents in the old church, to instantly prominent leaders of the new.

I am distressed that the New Wineskins folks are trying to leave already. They feared that bad things might happen as a result of the PUP report. I, too, am waiting to see if the "local application" of the church's essential tenets really will degenerate into "local option," as some conservatives fear – but it hasn't happened yet. I remain hopeful that by returning to the traditional Presbyterian standards of the Adopting Act of 1729 we will, instead, turn back some of the politically correct excesses that beset the church from the other side. In any case, though, I think we should all work for a good outcome, and wait to see what it really is.

It is probably inevitable that some of the New Wineskins churches will leave. I think that if the overwhelming majority of a congregation want to go, the Presbyterian Church (USA) should let them, and wish them godspeed. The congregation should buy their building for a reasonable amount. The PC(USA) will most likely be losing a good location, and should suck it up. If the big church is reasonable with dissidents, there will be fewer of them. I don't want them to go, but I don't want the denomination to be a dog in the manger, either.