Denise Rose has a master’s degree in counseling. Her most recent ex-husband has a high school diploma.”I’m the only one I know who married beneath me,” sighs the twice-divorced Knoxville, Tenn., resident.
But then, as she starts naming her friends and family, Mrs. Rose realizes she is far from alone. Several women she knows have higher levels of education than their husbands. Their marriages just didn’t end quite so badly.
From Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” to John Gray’s “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” the battle of the sexes has been a common theme for writers. But that struggle has become more desperate — and promises to become more so, says political science professor Andrew Hacker.
Talk of a “gender gap” long ago entered the political lexicon, but Mr. Hacker says that while women have improved their levels of educational and career attainment, these gains have not added to their prospects for romantic success.
In his latest book, “Mismatch: The Growing Gulf Between Men and Women,” Mr. Hacker finds evidence of diverging trends in marriage and divorce, educational aspirations and politics:
According to the Census Bureau, among wives ages 25 to 34 who have bachelor’s degrees, 35.6 percent of their husbands have a lower level of schooling.
Women who earn more than $100,000 a year are twice as likely to have never married and almost four times as likely to get divorced, compared to other women.
Only 6.8 percent of divorces were filed jointly, while 60.7 percent were initiated by wives and 32.5 percent begun by husbands, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
In 1970, 72.9 percent of female college graduates had their first child by age 30, while now only 36.6 percent of that same demographic are mothers, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
In the 1996 presidential contest, 43 percent of male voters supported President Clinton compared with 54 percent of female voters — the largest gender gap in the history of presidential elections.
In 2000, 57.2 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 48.9 percent of Ph.D.s and 42.7 percent of medical degrees were awarded to women, as compared with women in 1960, who received only 38.5 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 10.5 percent of Ph.D.s and 5.5 percent of medical degrees.
Although the trend toward women’s educational advantage crosses all socioeconomic levels, the trend is more pronounced among low-income groups, says Wayne Upshaw, senior scholar at the Washington-based Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.
“If you look at the problem, it is really distributional, meaning that it happens in a certain sector — the most glaring being the lower-income sector,” Mr. Upshaw says.
Boys from low-income families are turned off to education at an early age, he says, and they never seem to catch up from there.
“We live in a knowledge-based society, and knowledge plays a role in global competition,” Mr. Upshaw says. “Our industrial competition could be compromised because our workers are going to be less educated.”
But as women become more numerous in the ranks of college-educated professionals, their chances of finding similarly educated husbands decline.
“If she’s a lawyer,” says Mr. Hacker, “will she really be happy with an electrician? I don’t think so.”
Whereas women used to settle for the boy next door, Mr. Hacker says, they now want a spouse who shares their intellectual and political interests. As they receive praise and validation from their professional successes, they expect to receive the same level of respect when they return home. Men, however, have different expectations of a marriage — they want a nest, Mr. Hacker says.
“There’s a gender difference in what people consider a good marriage,” says Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, author of “Why There Are No Good Men Left: The Romantic Plight of the New Single Woman.”
She notes that women have been the primary ones initiating divorces since the 1920s.
“Women’s growing independence and lack of social-stigma pressures on women to stay in a marriage that is unhappy are one reason for this trend,” Mrs. Whitehead says.
But it’s not just the women who are leaving.
Although the majority of divorces are filed by women, the “men’s liberation” movement has allowed men — with or without children — to leave their families without experiencing censure from society.
“It used to be that, hey, you were kind of a pariah if you did that, called irresponsible, if not immoral,” Mr. Hacker says. “Today, we all have friends, men, who have initiated divorce, leaving behind a couple of kids.”
As men remarry — usually with significantly younger women — and start new families, he says, their interaction with children from their first marriages may decrease. America has shifted from a society that emphasized family loyalty to a society that focuses on individual liberation, Mr. Hacker says, and there will be consequences.
“We’re going to see fewer future couples in sustainable relationships,” says Mr. Hacker.
And as marriages are more unstable and people experience more frequent short-term relationships, there will be less consistency in mutual support and care-giving, says Mrs. Whitehead.
“It will have an impact on a society who is aging,” she says.
“Fasten your seat belts,” says Mr. Hacker. “It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”