After 40 years of preferential treatment in schools and the job market, many women are now better educated and make more money than men. These changes should surprise no one – especially not social science researchers. Those who work with the data know that there has been both a profound shift in marriage itself and that marriage rates are declining. Many women are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to find a husband who is their financial, career or social equal. With the decline in manufacturing jobs and their lack of higher education, many men don’t have the money or job prospects to marry. Yet, much is being made of a new study by the Pew Research Center finding that the benefits of marriage are now greater for men than women.
This is news? Who hasn’t noticed the increase of single women, the increase in single mothers, and the cultural change where marriage is derided by the media and opinion leaders? Pew can tout the benefits of marriage for men all they want, the popular culture sends our young people – especially men &mash; a different message. The Pew study notes that women are leaving school better prepared for today’s job market, but the “same ole – same ole” educational priorities reign and our boys are still getting a raw deal in school.
We’ve spent 40 years pushing girls ahead and holding boys back. The big news of the Pew study is that we can finally discuss facts that previously were politically incorrect; the real cultural change that the study reflects is that, after all these years, it is finally acceptable to point out that marriage is a good thing – even for men.
Fry and Cohn used census data from 1970 and 2007 to compare U.S.-born married couples ages 30 to 44. They found that this cohort of Americans is the first in U.S. history to have more women than men with college degrees – college grads in 1970 were 64 percent men, 36 percent women; in 2007, 53.5 percent were women and 46.5 percent men. During the period of 1970 to 2007, women’s earnings grew 44 percent while men’s only grew 6 percent (though men, on average, still make more money, women’s income gains are sharper and the disparity has narrowed). In 1970, only 4 percent of husbands were married to women earning more than they; in 2007, 22 percent were in that situation.
During the current recession, more men are losing jobs than women, which will increase the income disparities. Not only is the unemployment rate for men higher than for women but the gap that has opened up between the two is nearly three times as great from this recession as compared with the previous one, i.e., 2.2 percentage points compared with 0.8 percentage points.
During the time period of the study, median household income increased 60 percent for married men, married women, and unmarried women, but it increased only 16 percent for unmarried men. The loss of manufacturing jobs is believed to be the primary reason for income losses for unmarried men without college degrees. Those with college degrees made income gains of 15 percent (compared to 28 percent gains by unmarried women).
The Pew authors and others acknowledge in the fine print that after 40 years of women in the labor market, the changes in family life are becoming evident. This is explained by recognizing that most women did not work outside the home in 1970; while now most do. The researchers also point out that change came because of the decline in manufacturing and male-dominated jobs and the expectations of college-educated women that they would have careers.
Other scholars are quick to add that it is not just the financial aspects of marriage that are changing. They quietly call women the “victims” of the educational and financial role reversals – while their advances in education and career are increasing their authority and decision-making roles within the family, their increased education and money-making ability is also decreasing their ability to find a husband of equal economic and social status. In 1970, 84 percent of women 30-44 years old married; by 2007, only 60 percent married (and black women had even lower percentages).
Stephanie Coontz, research director for the Council on Contemporary Families, claims that men are discovering that they need marriage more than women “from the standpoint of physical and mental well-being.” Coontz attributes their willingness to marry “up” as evidence of the fact that marriage “is becoming increasingly important to their economic well-being as well.” Other scholars point out that those who recognize the value of marriage are the better educated men and women.
The Pew study notes, “Those with more education are far more likely than those with less education to be married, a gap that has widened since 1970. Because higher education tends to lead to higher earnings, these compositional changes have bolstered the economic gains for being married for both men and women.”
The Pew study describes current trends as a “cause” for the value of marriage increasing dramatically. They note that in 1970, the “typical man did not gain another breadwinner in his household when he married.” Today, married men have a wife’s income – an advantage the unmarried man does not have. The Pew study reported, “The superior gains of married men have enabled them to overtake and surpass unmarried men in their median household income.”
Sure it does, but, sadly, only the well-educated men and women are aware of these facts. By the time many of our young people wake up to these facts, they are no longer young, nor do they qualify as desirable, highly-eligible choices in the marriage market.