Princeton Mom vs. the Facts

Susan Patton's argument that college women should be looking for husbands doesn't square with the reality of today's marriages.
Mel Evans/AP Photo

Susan Patton is attracting a great deal of attention with her polemic on the virtues of attracting a husband in college. Her underlying theme, that the university setting is the ideal feeding ground for husbands, leaves many women up in arms over the suggestion that the goal of getting a guy should be right up there with getting a degree. In what can only be described as scare tactics, she offers her version of motherly advice, which is that women need to find the smartest guys in college and pursue them as marriage prospects. It may be in her upcoming book she will fill in the facts that back up her many assertions, but her argument does not hold up, not because the message is offensive, although it is. Rather, because the argument does not square with the facts.

Patton begins her argument on sure footing. Marriage, or some other form of relationship, is a big factor in women’s happiness. But the fact that she neglects to mention is that marriage is even more important for men. It is men who should be far more desperate to find a partner, as their health, happiness, and longevity depend on it. Multiple studies show that married men have a lower risk of disease, less loneliness and depression and that men with more educated wives enjoy a lower death rate. One cannot help but wonder if it is not men who should be seeking out college educated women as life partners, rather than the reverse.

Patton argues that spending the decade of one’s 20’s focused on career will leave a woman with few marriage prospects as they approach 30 because men reaching this milestone will look for younger women as partners. She exhorts future thirtysomethings not to put themselves in the precarious position of having to compete with girls much younger. But again, the problem with this argument lies in the facts. On average, men marry women two years younger. Two years, not ten years.

Next, Patton resorts to the lowest of all arguments, the one that kept girls from higher education for generations and to this day keeps women from asserting themselves in the classroom and the workplace in the same way that men do: Men don’t like women who are too smart, or too educated. Without resorting to facts, Patton asserts, “Those men who are as well-educated as you are often interested in younger, less challenging women.” Can we just pause for a moment and recognize this as the monumental insult to men that it is? And then we can move on to the facts. Among college-educated married women, Pew found that only 36 percent were married to less-educated men.

Times have changed, and college-educated women are just as like to marry as women without degrees. As Pew found, “Young women with college degrees are now just as likely as less-educated women to marry, and the timing of their marriages are increasingly similar. This was not the case in 1990. Back then, less-educated women were more likely to marry than were better-educated women, and they tended to do so at a younger age.”  

College, Patton argues, is the best place to find a husband because of the plentiful supply of well- educated like-minded men. The well-educated part is obvious, but like-minded might be harder to prove. College is a diverse place with people, luckily, of widely divergent views. But, nonetheless, the average age of marriage for college educated men is 28. The notion that they would be thinking about marriage, looking for a mate, or even a girlfriend for the very long haul, seems unlikely when, on average, their wedding date is still six to eight years away.  

Finally, in perhaps the most offensive passage, Patton exhorts women to keep in touch with the smart men, particularly the super smart ones as they will be in demand. She presumes that marriage is an economic arrangement where women need to seek out the highest earner. First, college-educated women earn on their own, as Patton pointed out about herself, and do not necessarily need men in this role. Second, income prospects are not the criteria used in selecting a spouse. Research shows that among the reasons to get married, financial stability ranked fifth after more important reasons like love, lifelong commitment, companionship, and having children. Men and women are equally likely to rank love as their most important reason.

Patton stakes out a controversial viewpoint, and it is receiving widespread attention. While there are those who agree with her and others who disagree, her arguments should be held up to the light of fact. Young women should not be scared into action based on a world view from another era, that does not square with today’s facts. The New York Times pointed out that college-educated women have the lowest divorce rate and therefore, “by age 30, and especially at ages 35 and 40, college-educated women are significantly more likely to be married than any other group.” In reality it is the college-educated woman who is the prize. Her husband can expect a higher level of income, a healthier life, and longer marriage.

Presented by

Lisa Endlich Heffernan is a stay-at-home mother, a volunteer, and the author of Goldman Sachs: The Culture of Success and Be the Change. She lives in New York and writes regularly at Grown and Flown.

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