As I’ve confessed before, I’m a bit of a numbers junkie so I was fascinated when I read an article in the Sunday New York Times by Stephanie Coontz entitled, “The M.R.S. and the P.h.D.: The Myth of the Spurned and Single Educated Woman”. The article was chalk full of statistics about the evolution of the educated woman, and her prospects for marriage.
Coontz noted that prior to 1900, three quarters of women who graduated from college remained single; even as late as 1950, 33% of college graduates aged 55-59 had never been married, compared to only 7% of non-college educated women. A physician opined in a 1905 magazine that an educated woman would develop a self assertive character which made it impossible to love, honor and obey as a real wife should.” Post war dating manuals advised women to “play dumb” to catch a man. As a guidebook warned, “be careful not to seem smarter than your man”. In 1956, “education and intelligence” ranked 11th out of an 18 point scale in the qualities sought by men in a mate. Much more important was finding a good cook and housekeeper who had a pleasing disposition.
Fast forward to today when 60% of the undergraduate and half the graduate degrees are being earned by women. There has been a historic reversal in the “success” penalty for educated women. By 2008, the percentage of college educated white women, ages 55-59, who never married was down to 9 percent (remember the 33% in 1950) and among 35-39 year old women, there is no longer any difference.
I just have one thing to say – THANK GOD! My hope is that these educated women will impose their “self assertive characters” on the men in their lives who often dominate institutions like congress/legislatures, religion, and corporations, for control over their own lives, pocketbooks and bodies.