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Relationships in the digital age

Still Looking for Christian Grey?

Do women need a glass ceiling to get (and stay) married?

 

Please read that subtitle again and before you vote me off the island, hear me out.

So I set out to answer the question of why marriage seems more elusive in the digital age —people are getting married later when they do and many more people than ever before will never get married—and like Captain Renault in “Casablanca,” I start rounding up the usual suspects. Most of these accounts, including some I’ve written, are focused on the female perspective. I wander into the territory usually occupied by The Atlantic and Jezebel, each in their own distinctive ways, and throw in a pinch of Lena Dunham to find out, as Larissa Faw in Forbes, rather plaintively asked, “Why Are So Many Professional Millennial Women Unable to Find Dateable Men?”   Sure enough, the usual suspects are hiding in plain sight:

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·      Fewer men and more women.

·      Fewer good men and pickier women.

·      The education gap

·      Women too busy with career to be bothered with relationships.

·      The girl posse and the “raging” single girl

·      No dating experience, the hookup, the text message

·      Slacker dudes, porn, video games, and the frat boy syndrome

·      The “why buy the cow when the milk is free” problem

·      FOMO and you never know who you’ll meet next

·      “The End of Courtship”

·      The Generation of Narcissists

But what if it’s all about money?  Money as in earning power?

That’s exactly what a study by Marianne Bertrand and others suggests, with the very unsexy title “Gender Identity and Relative Income Within Households, “ although it should probably be called “The True Cost of Girl Power” instead.  (Dr. Bertrand, by the way, is the Chris P. Dialymas Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.)  

Depressingly enough, if Dorothy Parker once observed that “Men seldom make passes/At girls who wear glasses,” it’s also true that men —today’s men—don’t make passes at girls who earn more.  Given that the gender gap in wages—twenty-five percent among full time, full year workers— is alive and well, is this really worth worrying about?  It turns out it is because women out-earning men might be the key to why marriage rates are falling.  Most of the press addresses why Millennial women are having trouble finding mates given their expectations and/or “pickiness”; as one put it, “ If you’re asking whether I have expectations, like my guy will be employed, educated and ambitious, I guess I am picky.  A guy living in his parents’ basement is not my idea of a good match.”  But what about the Millennial man?  According to the research, the news is not good.  Keep in mind that the research is based on young adults.

·      Based on their data, they discovered that when a “randomly chosen woman becomes more likely to earn more than a randomly chosen man, the marriage rates decline.” They point to the fact that while in 1970, 81% of young adults ages 25-39 were married, 51% are today.  Their estimates suggest that 29% of that decline is attributable to “an aversion to a wife earning more than a husband.” [Ouch.]

·      In 24% of marriages, the woman out-earns the man.  Using data from the National Survey of Families and Households, these couples report less happiness, more strife, and are more likely to get a divorce. [Ouch.]

·      When the wife makes more money, she’ll end up doing more of the housework.  One possible explanation for this is that the “threatening” wife placates the “threatened” husband by doing more of the traditional role.  Alas, she’s likely to tire of that too which may also increase the divorce rate.

·      While both men and women prefer partners with a high income, men are less likely to marry a woman who will make more.  That means that one option — outlined in The Richer Sex by Liza Mundy— of marrying “down” may not be an option at all.

So is it time for Millennial women to stop sharing their W-2s?  To start lying about them?  Should they stop striving if they want to get married?  Drop out of the workforce (as the researchers suggest some will after they marry to deal with problem) or work part-time?   New cultural realities and old norms make uneasy bedfellows as we already know from the double standard that still persists despite the hook-up culture ( the slut vs. the player, the walk of shame vs. braggadocio etc.) so why should it come as a surprise that the breadwinner stance —so long a component of the American malehood— isn’t going down without a fight?

Keep in mind that Christian Grey had the bucks, not Ana Steele…. Same old, same old….

http://www.forbes.com/sites/larissafaw/2012/12/05/why-are-so-many...

http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/marianne.bertr 

Peg Streep, author or coauthor of nine books, is a New York City based writer currently working on a book about the Millennial generation.

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