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Is It True That the Smarter You Are, the More Likely You Are to Be Single?

Single ladies, we need to consider this before we start buying into the claim that marriage is for dummies.

Art Credit: Shannon Lee Miller

I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t have a long track record in giving the male sex the benefit of the doubt. Sure, by the time I turned twenty-one I had run into enough egotistical, handsy, frat boys to give the male typecast credence. But I allowed myself to overlook the numerous examples of well-bred men that surrounded me and instead focused on—what seemed like—the steady flow of stereotypical stragglers in my life.

The truth is, popular media understands my frustration in regards to men and is in the practice of feeding me exactly what they think I want to hear. A prime example of this kind of pandering is the claim that men are less likely to marry smart women.

Granted, it’s a very easy story to swallow. Women are constantly being told that the reason men are not interested or loose interest is because they are too intimidated, and we often offer ourselves this same explanation. I mean what other reason could a man have for not being madly in love with a woman as fabulous as you? That is a very good question, but unfortunately the answer is not always going to be your super scary smarts.

The fact that finding a spouse can feel all too elusive and the process absolutely torturous, makes this research that much more palatable. Think about it, you are thirty something and thought you would be married by now, you’ve arrived home from yet another night of fruitless fraternizing—no dates and no interest—and you pull up your Facebook feed to find a friend has posted a link to an article entitled “Ladies, The Smarter You Are, The More Likely You Are To Be Single,” with a comment that says “I knew it!” The doom-and-gloom article points to you and your many beautiful and intelligent friends who are scratching your heads wondering “when is it my turn?” Then the article cites a study, conducted with 121 British participants, that reports finding “that females with high intelligence in male/female relationships were seen as problematic.” It all seems to make sense and you feel that little that bit of smugness that comes with being right—even when the answer is depressing—and you share it on your own Facebook wall.

But Dr. Christine B. Whelan has a different take. In her book, Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women, Whelan argues that the intelligent woman is not as scary as she might think. In an excerpt from her book Whelan explains that women should not believe every ghost story they hear:

“High-achieving women marry at the same rate as all other women; they just do so a bit later in life. Smart women do get married. Men do make passes at girls who wear glasses. And though some men are looking for women to play fetch for them, there's certainly no shortage of men who would much prefer to volley with an equal.”

Well, what about that study with all the British dudes? you might ask. Whelan’s response: “So 120 guys just out of puberty said that they were more attracted to women who weren't that challenging to them. And this is national news?” But she also provides further cause to call this research into question.

“This study was conducted on men and women born in 1921 — men and women who would be 85 years old today,” explains Whelan. “These women were born seven years before the UK granted equal voting rights to women. When these seniors were coming of age in the early 1940s, women had to resign their jobs upon marriage and top universities were still closed to female students. Not until these women reached their 50s would equal pay be implemented in the Civil Service. The results may be valid, but the idea that the gender norms of Grandma's generation are newsworthy and applicable to the lives of young, smart women today is laughable.”

"The whole dating thing just feels hard, and sometimes we just want data that support the way we feel. Even if the news is great in the long run, it's still hard, and we like to wallow a bit," Eileen, a thirty-four-year-old magazine journalist, tells Whelan.

Still, Whelan provides more recent research that should give us cause to celebrate our situation.

“Sex and power are often linked, but most sociological theories (and media headlines) predict that it is women who will flock to high-powered men and find them the most attractive, whereas men will be drawn to docile and subordinate women. Yet a 2005 article in the American Journal of Sociology, overlooked by the media, reports just the opposite: High-status and powerful women are rated as more attractive. Based on a study of interpersonal relationships in 60 different communities nationwide, the author concludes that women in positions of power are sexier to men than are more subordinate women.”

While Whelan points out that narrow metrics in measuring intelligence is another hole in these old studies used to scare us, research also offers proof that things are looking good for high-income women. Whelan cites research by Megan Sweeney, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California Los Angeles, explaining that “higher-earning women marry at higher rates. Among white women, a $10,000-per-year increase in salary can mean a 7 percent increase in the likelihood that she will marry within a year. For black women, that same salary bump increases the likelihood of marriage by more than 8 percent.”

So, maybe there is another side to the story, and it’s one we should consider before we start buying into the claim that marriage is for dummies. I know, we're smart cookies, but let's give the men in our lives a little more credit—there are plenty of  guys out there who are looking for someone he can learn from and grow with, and they know a good thing when they see it.