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.


SPorcupine said...

Could you clarify about what the percentages were for both groups in both periods? The gap could be closed by one group marrying more or the other less, and it isn't clear to me which happened.

(Oh, and Happy Valentines Day!)

Gruntled said...

Whelan does not give comparative numbers (in fact, she gives very few numbers at all). I gather from her account of Rose's research that the marriage rate for highly educated women has risen. She does say that other accounts underestimate the educated women's marriage rate because they look at the percentage of women married by 30 in various groups, whereas educated women are more likely to marry after 30.