“The Upside of ‘Marrying Down'”


The cultural conversation continues with this Wall Street Journal story, subtitled “Today’s ambitious women need husbands who are collaborators, not traditional breadwinners.”

As usual the story may not be available through the WSJ paywall for long, so I’ll excerpt:

Today, a successful single woman who falls for a man making less money than she does or not sharing her career ambition may face not-so-subtle disapproval from friends and family. One patient of mine reported being told, “I’m surprised you haven’t found someone who is more your equal.” Another felt insulted when a trusted friend asked, “Are you sure you wouldn’t be happier with a man who is making more money than you?”

These women were in love with solid, supportive guys who shared their values—men who weren’t driven by money. They dreaded the concerned whispers from friends or family who persisted in believing that they were “marrying down.”

As a couples therapist, the notion of marrying down strikes me as impossibly antiquated. It’s right out of the “Downton Abbey” era, when suitable marriages were entirely a matter of matching people according to social class and fortune—hence the panic when Lord Grantham’s youngest daughter marries the family’s Irish chauffeur.

More education doesn’t necessarily lead to greater earning power, but in most U.S. cities, single, childless women under 30 now make more money than their male peers, according to analysis by Reach Advisors, a research firm. Across all social classes, women contribute 47% of household income, reports the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. And most strikingly, Pew has found that in 24% of marriages, women earn more than their husbands, up from 6.2% in 1960.

These men are secure enough to follow as well as lead. They value partnership, parenting and pulling their own weight. They work but aren’t workaholics. The problem is family members and friends who sometimes devalue such men because they don’t adhere to traditional standards of masculinity—standards that should no longer apply.

What high-achieving women need are men strong enough to support their achievements, contribute to the household in services and/or money, and be loving partners. A strong woman will reap the benefit of this kind of respectful, responsible beta man; he will be more flexible, more nurturing and more willing to share the responsibilities of family life.

Today’s romances suggest that growing numbers of smart women and men are marrying neither up nor down—they’re just marrying the right person.

I think the mention of these men as “beta males” is ridiculous. The stereotyped alpha male is assertive, a leader, and dominant in the pack. While there are some insecure alpha males who want submissive women who are dependent on them to win the bread, today the kind of woman who will be interesting and stimulating to him, as his intellectual equal and assistive partner, is going to be quite accomplished herself. A truly secure alpha male craves a companion who can fully understand his accomplishments and assist in making him more successful.

That being said, the right fit emotionally is far more important than the relative success of the partners. An accomplished male plumber climbing the ladder of his profession may be the perfect match for a female litigator or investment banker who makes far more money. And an alpha male may well choose to downplay his career for a few years to raise the children and keep his wife’s career on track. What other people think just shows what they don’t understand.

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“The Upside of ‘Marrying Down’”
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