Partnership shift. Men are now more likely to marry up

Study shows highly educated women are improving quality of life for their husbands

Study shows highly educated women are improving quality of life for their husbands

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Going back millennia, matrimony has been more enterprise than endearment. It was something of a business venture that hinged on commodities like dowries and bride prices. Love may very well have existed within the confines of padlock, I mean wedlock, but unions were usually, and patently, a contract. One that afforded both parties things like a merging of clans, a promise of continued bloodlines, and financial or social stability. Ahhh, love.  

While it may not set your heart aflutter, that last part is key. Typically, women who weren't afforded an education or earning power of their own tended to enjoy a financial boost from the union while men enjoyed the social benefit of a well kept hearth and a warm bed. Without over exploring the myriad inequities within that dynamic, suffice to say it behooved women to marry into money - in fact, the system was set up that way.

Jump to today and we're seeing a welcome shift that's putting a tired social trope to bed for good: less and less women are marrying wealthier men with better careers. In fact, more men are "marrying up".

A recent study out of the University of Kansas showed that as the number of women with higher education has gone up in the past few decades, their chances of also marrying up has gone down. The opposite is true for men - and significantly so. Associate Professor of Sociology, ChangHwan Kim, explains that today, "women are more likely to get married to a less-educated man."

The new data highlights a complex social shift. In an attempt to explore the consequences of financial return on education across gender, Kim examined 35 to 44 year old men and women from U.S. census data collected as far back as 1990. "Previously, women received more total financial return [on] education than men, because their return in the marriage market was high. However, this female advantage has deteriorated over time despite women's substantial progress in education and labor-market performance," says Kim.

As such, the standard of living for educated females has decreased a significant 13% between 1990 and 2011. The reason is largely because, within the marriage model, the earning power of women has grown far faster than that of men - a change that's lessening a long standing divide in the workforce. Findings showed that for marriage-ready singles, highly educated women outnumber highly educated men - so you have more female PhDs marrying male GEDs. At least in theory.

Ultimately, the return on earnings for men in the marriage market has stagnated, so the amount of bacon a man brings home has gone down, comparatively speaking. Kim explains that education is the shift driver and plays a major role. But it's lead to a much faster improvement of living standards for married men than their equally educated female counterparts. Put another way, marriage now helps men financially more than it helps women. What a difference a millennium can make.

Consider that there's still a distinct wage gap between female and male earners. StatsCan confirmed women still earn 87¢ for every 1$ that men make in Canada. Women are also still more likely to work in "female" occupations. That gap is often even larger for indigenous women. If that seems incongruous with Kim's findings it's because his data highlights that the gap is closing, not that it's closed.  

Still, Kim says the change is in fact positive and represents more of an equilibrium than an eventual tipping of the social scales in the other direction. "Marriage is now becoming more egalitarian and becoming equal," he says. "If you look at gender dynamics or from a marriage-equality standpoint, that is a really good sign." Households are more balanced in terms of earnings, although that doesn't seem to be helping our proclivity for debt. A topic to explore in another post.

Kim says there is something of a silent victory taking place on both sides of the breakfast table. "When we consider family dynamics, men are getting the benefit from women's progress." Yet another case for true egalitarianism, if the existing humanitarian ones don't float your boat.

The study also indirectly underlines that, on the business end of love, money and matrimony are still (inextricably so) going hand in hand down the aisle. They're just enjoying a much healthier gender balance. The hero here is better education for all, so, progress.