Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Those who say that men don’t like women with brains and careers are misleading women, says New York columnist Christine B. Whelan, author of “Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women,” published this year.

Ms. Whelan, 29, says she wrote the book, in part, to respond to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s claim in her 2005 book “Are Men Necessary?” that success decreases a woman’s chance for marriage.

“This isn’t good news,” Ms. Whelan said about reading the book when she was single and had just finished her doctoral degree in economic and social history. “The social scientist in me knew better than to accept this conventional wisdom without doing research of my own.”

Ms. Whelan researched U.S. Census Bureau data, commissioned a national opinion survey and conducted interviews with more than 100 high-achieving men and women in nine cities to gather material for her book. What she found was that high-achieving women — women with graduate degrees and/or an income in the top 10 percent of women in their age group — married at the same rate as all other women did, but later in life, and that outdated information and misinterpreted statistics had women believing otherwise.

She calls these women SWANS, or Strong Women Achievers, No Spouse

The statistics Ms. Whelan provides in her book show that American women marry by an average age of 30 if they have a graduate degree, the median age for all women to marry is 25, and 90 percent of women marry by 44.

“Ms. Dowd is painting the wrong picture for our generation,” Ms. Whelan said, adding that Ms. Dowd was right in saying that prior to the 1980s, it was more difficult for smart, successful women to get married and have children.

But today, as the majority of men she interviewed have said, men find that a woman’s career and education make her more attractive as a wife — men want an equal, not a subordinate, for a partner.

“This generation is the first generation of men who have seen strong women as role models throughout their entire lives,” Ms. Whelan said. “We should give credit to the previous generation for laying the groundwork for this exciting new trend.”

The “smart men” that Ms. Whelan refers to should be called “enlightened men,” because they are being exposed to smart women at home, in school and at work, said Shaista E. Khilji, assistant professor of human and organizational studies at George Washington University in Northwest.

“More Generation X men are willing to marry smart women than baby boomers,” Ms. Khilji said.

Demographic research shows that women who are committed to career and who have an income and a favorable income trajectory have higher marriage rates than women in general, said Steven Martin, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Maryland at College Park.

“Education, intelligence and earning potential, whether it’s through the husband or wife, gives the marriage flexibility,” said Mr. Martin, who has a doctoral degree in sociology.

These three qualities allow marriages to persevere and might explain why divorce rates are lower for highly educated women, Mr. Martin said.

“Men are keying in on women’s achieved characteristics, which is pretty much the way women have treated men as potential marriage partners,” he said.

More than 30 percent of single women, however, downplay their success when they meet a man they want to date, Ms. Whelan said. Half of the women whom she surveyed thought that their career or educational success held them back in their quest for love, she said.

Lesley Benn, a lawyer in Washington, is one of the SWANS Ms. Whelan interviewed about dating.

“The message of her book is: Don’t worry ladies, there is hope for smart women like you. Smart, professional women can still get married and be happy. I don’t relate to that message,” Ms. Benn, 34, said. “I don’t feel that my happiness is related to whether or not I get married or have children.”

Decades ago, women went to college to find a husband, said Ben J. Wattenberg, demographer, author and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

“They used to call the degree when I went to school the M.R.S,” said Mr. Wattenberg, who is 73. “That was what a lot of going to college was about.”

Today, Ms. Whelan said, men are looking for a woman who is smart, successful and passionate about what she does and is able to prioritize them and make time for a relationship. They are looking for someone with whom to share responsibilities and want to marry for love, she said.

“That is so exciting and liberating for women. You can make the right choice for you rather than marry someone who pays the bills,” Ms. Whelan said.

However, many smart women want to take on traditional roles and put motherhood first when they have children or are willing to take on both roles, said Carrie Lukas, vice-president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF).

“There was a lot of anxiety early on about women in the work force. There was this idea you were making an either/or choice between work and family. As we see more and more women have a successful family life and successful career, people began to realize this isn’t true,” said Ms. Lukas, author of “Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex and Feminism,” published this year.

The media portray women as unable to be both successful in their careers and a feminine, nurturing person, instead showing them to be cold, calculating and ambitious, Ms. Whelan said.

“There’s this idea that you can’t have it all,” she said. “The conventional wisdom is alive and well among women, but men of this generation don’t buy into this at all. It’s really time you let go of this and enjoy your single years.”

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