The nation's list of "power couples" burgeons with the rich and famous, the wise and wary — the family brand name a fixture in media, politics, Hollywood, finance, academia, religion, sports.
Research released yesterday reveals a fundamental truth about influential duos: Urban life is the matchmaker in such ultimate strategic alliances.
"Power couples don't move to big cities intact. They're formed there," said economist Robert Pollak of Washington University and the National Bureau of Economic Research.
With research partner Janice Compton of the University of Manitoba, he analyzed statistics on 4,800 families, poring over their migration patterns, educational backgrounds and family structures.
"More than half of all power couples — couples in which both spouses are college graduates — live in large metropolitan areas with more than 2 million residents," he said, noting that this disputes research that suggested high-achieving couples linked arms and went to the big city together.
Instead, they may be like everyone else, seeking a suitable partner under the best possible circumstances.
"College-educated singles are more likely to move to big cities where they meet, date, marry," the study noted. The method must be successful. The urban power-couple population is growing "substantially," the study said.
In 1970, 39 percent of them lived in bustling metropolitan areas. By 1990, that share had grown to more than 50 percent. In contrast, couples in which neither spouse has a college degree had the lowest probability of living in the city, their numbers increasing from 30 percent to 34 percent in the same 20-year period.
Even among power couples, though, male credentials dominated where the couple would live, the statistics found. If only the woman had a degree, the couple were no more likely to move to a metropolitan area than a couple where neither partner had a degree.
"This finding has important implications for city planners hoping to attract a well-educated workforce," said the study, which was published in the July issue of the Journal of Labor Economics.
Meanwhile, the dynamics and characteristics of power couples are fodder for much speculation. The Washington Monthly, for example, last month compiled a list of the city's 60 most "sizzlingest" power couples, including Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, but not President Bush and first lady Laura Bush. Sports Illustrated, Fast Company, Forbes, Ebony and other publications have assembled similar rosters.
Power couples also are perceived as keys to success. In October, the Harvard Business School staged a public forum for high-profile spouses willing to "share their life balance strategies."
Money talks, too. A report published in January by Britain's Labor Economics journal found that a professional man's salary rose by 6 percent for every 1,000 hours his wife worked.
"Successful men no longer want arm candy. Instead, they want intelligent, successful, hard-working wives ... which means a new elite made up of powerful alpha couples," said the Independent, a London newspaper.