a highly educated, never married white woman

According to the New York Times, I am a member of the group of Americans that will live “the longest, healthiest lives of all groups.” I am a highly educated, never-married white woman.

Education is protective against all kinds of health risks, that’s been obvious for decades, and a background of ANY privileged status (in this case race) improves health outcomes, and only in the last decade or so has the “marriage is good for men’s health and bad for women’s health” trend begun to change (PDF). So of course I’m in the healthiest group.

But man, this is an article full of sentences that make me blink hard and shake my head, to make sure I really read it. Like:

One reason educated heterosexual women may worry about their marriage prospects today is that overall marriage rates have been slipping since 1980…

I… wait, why would women “worry about their marriage prospects,” when unmarried women fair better? Because of cultural expectation of marriage I guess. And in fact the rest of the paragraph is about how marriage rates among educated women have slipped the LEAST, so actually we (the educated women) don’t need to worry after all, at least not compared to less educated women.

Because we were worried. Apparently?

And then:

ONE of the dire predictions about educated women is true: today, more of them are “marrying down.”

That is, marrying men with less education and less earning potential than the woman.

Okay, so surely the “dire” is tongue-in-cheeck, since a couple paragraphs later the article says, “But there is not a shred of evidence that such marriages are any less satisfying than marriages in which men have equal or higher education than their wives,” and then it goes on to identify those benefits (husband participates more in housework and childcare.)

But then there’s this nugget:

The degree to which housework is shared is now one of the two most important predictors of a woman’s marital satisfaction. And husbands benefit too, since studies show that women feel more sexually attracted to partners who pitch in.

Right? Because more sex is an asset to the HUSBAND in a relationship. Men want sex. Women want chores.

But then:

[E]ducated wives…are more likely to receive as well as give oral sex, to use a greater variety of sexual positions and to experience orgasm regularly.

So sexual pleasure is or at least might be important to women’s relationship satisfaction…

(Actually, there are reliable results across many decades indicating that orgasmicity is associated with social class. I have yet to run into a satisfying account of WHY this would be true, apart from generic “stress.”)

I mean paragraph after paragraph, it just alternates between painful gender stereotype and celebration of women’s education and autonomy. I had whiplash by the end of it, from the pitch and toss between “education and economic independence is good for women and men” and “young ladies go to Smith to meet Harvard men.” I tried to read it as “ha ha look at these sad old stereotypes, isn’t it awesome how great educated women are doing?” but I can’t make that interpretation stick. It’s a vertiginous mismatch.

Anyway, it’s February 13, the day before Valentine’s Day. For the past two years, I’ve written Valentine’s posts celebrating being single on Valentine’s Day, and this year I’m not single. I have a valentine who is “down” – less educated than I am.

I still believe that being single has many benefits, not least the avoidance of V-day drama. But if I’m going to have a Valentine, at least I can celebrate my continuing independence and overall wellbeing as a highly educated never married white woman. I’ve got a better chance of living longer than you (and longer than the Valentine, come to that) AND I’m more likely to give and receive oral sex, which makes the long life rather more worth living, eh?

To all the women who are single and smart on Valentine’s Day, whose mothers or friends or siblings are wondering when you’ll make it happen: you’re set up for a healthy, happy life.

And if you don’t believe me or don’t know how to allow that to be real, see last year’s valentine’s post.

24 responses to “a highly educated, never married white woman

  1. (Actually, there are reliable results across many decades indicating that orgasmicity is associated with social class. I have yet to run into a satisfying account of WHY this would be true, apart from generic “stress.”)

    Stress and also education, perhaps? With higher class comes better access to sexual health and freedom resources.

  2. Perhaps because better-educated women are better positioned in the marriage market and choose at the margin to trade some attributes of a potential mate (e.g. earning power) for others (bow-chicka-bow-bow)?

    • In fact there’s a chart in the article that shows how what men look for in a wife has changed since 1938 with a similar kind of trade off. Education/intelligence goes from 11th place to 4th, while chastity goes from 10th place to 18th.


      I’d like to think women’s “marrying down” reflects the recognition on the part of women that the quality of a partner is not measured in academic credentials, but really I think it has a lot to do with (a) men in academia are often socially inept, having spent their lives in school rather than learning to be people and (b) there are a lot MORE men without PhDs than there are men with them.

      • I think it’s just as likely that the pool of dudes you can “marry up” into decreases dramatically as a woman ages. If you spend your most fertile reproductive years in school or in a career, then by the time you’re ready to find a suitable mate, most of the men in the demographic you seek have already married younger women with better reproductive prospects. Even when the men in question aren’t interested in starting a family, I think you will find that the mating cues they respond to parallel those a potential father responds to.

        And while important, education is only one factor in the determination of social status in a husband — class, position, repute, and income are also important factors. And considering some of the PhDs I’ve known, I’m not so certain that a degree necessarily entitles you to a boost in social rank.

        But I also think it’s getting harder for older, white, educated women to find husbands (if they want them . . . and if the dating sites are any indication, they want them badly) because the pool of “acceptable” men in their bracket that would count as “marrying up” are also getting a lot more selective about their relationships and holding women to a higher standard. Despite what the dating sites tell you, most men in a strong socio-economic position are wary of “strong, independent women” with careers because of the perceived threat of eventual divorce. A woman who feels no dependence on her partner in a relationship has no vested interest in making a real permanent commitment. Men are starting to realize that, and are avoiding those women accordingly, especially if they are thinking about starting families.

      • “A woman who feels no dependence on her partner in a relationship has no vested interest in making a real permanent commitment.”

        Yeah, God forbid she actually stick around because she LIKES the dude or anything. Can’t have that.

      • Well, that is kind of the point.

        Most men view marriage as a life-long commitment that may possibly include reproductive rights, certainly involves combining finances and financial security, implies certain legal and ethical obligations, certainly includes a sexual component, not to mention establishing an entirely new family built around the compromises of blending your individual family cultures. His wife will be what socially defines him and will be how other men in his masculine culture will judge him.

        And you think that a man should make a decision and establish a commitment that weighty based on your willingness to “like a dude”?

        What happens if you stop “liking” him? You leave? Take his kids? Half his stuff? Because you “just aren’t happy” or “I love you, but I’m not in love with you”, and “I settled prematurely (!)” or any other EatPrayLove rationalization? Because you met another dude you like a little bit better? I mean, is it any wonder that older women are discovering that men in their brackets are more than a little “commitmentphobic” . . . because actual commitment to a marriage has been pretty thin on the ground for the last forty years.

        Yeah, Goddess forbid she stick around because she actually made a COMMITMENT to a dude or anything. Can’t have that.

      • Wait, you’d *rather* economically coerce a woman to stay with you than believe that she’s doing it out of love? Dude, that’s *some* fucked up. And I say that as a woman who’s been married nearly twenty years, and isn’t going anywhere, thanks. There’s nothing about economic security that makes people have to act like jerks. Why turn down money in the family because it’s got girl cooties on it?

  3. “vertiginous mismatch”

    I love this pair of words so much.

  4. I have a master’s degree and my husband has only a bachelor’s, but he could certainly have done everything I did to get a master’s. I consider us on a par educationally despite the paper qualifications being different. I should think lots of supposed mismatches are at about that level.

    Incidentally, if they’re looking at who’s living the longest, healthiest lives, they must be looking at very old women, right? so the risks those women would have undergone in childbirth and so on would have been greater six or seven decades ago, and the difference between married and unmarried women’s health correspondingly greater than it might be today. But the main point, that a single life can be a very healthy one, of course remains.

  5. Sorry for the nitpicking, but education brings not just more sexual healt information, but better chances to get better paid -> to have money for healthy foods, more rest, etc. -> live longer. /captain obvious..

  6. I like the sentiment in general, but I have to admit, celebrating being white makes me uncomfortable. (Celebrating being highly educated is certainly problematic, too, but at least that feels like a *little* bit more of a choice.)

    • Can you show me where I celebrate it? My intention in that paragraph was to identify that factors associated with positive health outcomes.

      • “But if I’m going to have a Valentine, at least I can celebrate my continuing independence and overall wellbeing as a highly educated never married white woman.” is what specifically rubbed me the wrong way. I think it’s a kyriarchy issue, since it’s pretty cool to celebrate the benefits of being something society looks down on (a never-married woman), but kind of in poor taste to celebrate the benefits of being something society agrees is awesome (highly educated – although, for women this is by no means seen as a universal good, since we’re apparently hurtin’ for honeys, as you point out – and white).

  7. “…since studies show that women feel more sexually attracted to partners who pitch in.”

    “Right? Because more sex is an asset to the HUSBAND in a relationship. Men want sex. Women want chores.”

    You have confused me. As a reasonably well-educated native speaker of English, I had thought that the objective meaning of the line quoted from the NYT was clear. “Women are sexually attracted”, to my mind, implies that women want sex. Your reading is that women want chores and that their desire for chores is apparently an alternative to a desire for sex. One of us is clearly wrong. Either “sexually attracted” implies a desire for sex, or a desire for chores.

    OK, no more Mr. Coy Guy – you’re the one who’s wrong. As a well-educated native speaker of English (I presume?), you must have willfully misconstrued the meaning of the sentence in question. It is not possible that you innocently misunderstood it, ’cause your language chops aren’t that weak. The question, then, is why you would do that. Why would you willfully declare that “sexually attracted” means “wants chores”?

    I mean, you are the same woman who has told us that context matters in women’s sexual response, right? Having a partner who is willing to pitch in might count as context. Hell, scratch that. The article cites research into women’s responses that finds that pitching in IS context for sexual response. Positive context. And you, the sexual scientist, somehow feel the need to ignore that. You who put considerable stock into research into sex, you who lecture you classes about embracing their sexual inclinations, confront evidence that women are more inclined toward sex with someone who’ll do work around the house with a sneer.

    Kid, your supposed to be good at this stuff. You study this stuff. You teach it. You write about it here. Why would you want to be blatantly dishonest about the simple objective meaning of a sentence, related to your own academic specialty, right out in front of everybody? You’re letting your prejudices drive you around like a toy car. You don’t like the article? Fine. Say so honestly.

    • Okay, so… here’s what I’ll do: I’ll give you some time to rewrite this comment in a nice way. You make a decent point about my sloppiness of thought, but you do it in a REALLY condescending way, and my comments policy is that I consider the blog to be like my living room. If you said this in my living room, I’d give you a second chance to reframe your intelligent and reasonable idea in a way that didn’t make me want to kick you the hell out of my house, and then if you didn’t, then I’d kick you out. Because an intelligent person making a good point is only worth having around if they’re also, ya know, nice.

      This is me being as polite as I can in the face of sarcasm and being called KID, for making what is ultimately a pretty minor slip in precision.

    • @kharris: Emily’s dead right on this one — I consider myself “loyal opposition” (or “that evil Manosphere dude who keeps polluting Emily’s blog”) but I’m ALWAYS a gentleman here. I might disagree with Emily, I might passionately disagree with Emily, but I have never once been intentionally rude or condescending to her (and if I’ve done it by accident, then I apologize). She is a well-respected (for good reason) sex educator with a far more open mind than most, and she has her own opinions and politics that sometimes intrude on her blog along with her research and academic observations. That’s kinda the point with a blog.

      So be respectful of the lady in her own house, please.

      Personally, I will genuinely attest that women are not attracted to men who “do chores” unless you categorize the chore. Mowing the lawn, home repair or yardwork builds sexual attraction in women because you are displaying your value as a strong, masculine man taking care of business in a physical way. That usually provides a lovely surge of feminine sexual desire.

      Folding laundry, however, does NOT build female sexual desire. It’s a Beta chore that increases feelings of security and domestic partnership, but it doesn’t produce tingles, in aggregate. It might be appreciated, it might be welcome, it might be wildly acclaimed and bragged about . . . but it doesn’t build desire. It might alleviate stress that gets in the way of desire, but it doesn’t build desire.

      Ladies, when was the last time you looked at a hunky man and wondered if he knew how to make hospital corners and properly wash and hang your delicates? I’m as willing to tout the importance of a good Beta skill-set in a marriage as the next guy, but all this crap about “women get turned on by guys that do housework” is right up there with “Guys get turned on by girls who can crank out a home-cooked meal and set an attractive table” or “Guys don’t mind earning less than their wives”. And the furthering of this particular damnable myth has led to thousands of hours of needless marriage counseling due to a bunch of poor schmucks taking it at face-value . . . and then being mystified when their best efforts utterly failed to achieve the results they were looking for.

  8. ooh Ian, you don’t realise how sexy a man cooking a meal and setting an attractive table can be, when he’s concentrating on getting it just right. There’s nothing sexier for me than a man concentrating on a complex task, whatever it is. I also love seeing him doing any task I suck at (such as folding laundry) – total hero worship time.

    But yes, hate all the ‘men want sex, women want chores’ assumptions. Interestingly, that doesn’t get expressed so often here in the UK. Although you’ll find articles about women still doing more of the housework and childcare, you hardly ever see the ‘men should do chores to get sex’ rationale these days. Most articles of this type assume that men and women are equally keen on sex and equally fed up that they’re too knackered to have any.

    • Also, men have a lot more access to low-hassle sexual outlets in hookup culture and paid escorts. Therefore they don’t need to do housework to get sex anymore. They don’t even have to get married to get sex. So . . . a lot of them don’t.

      And it’s so nice that you find all the Beta skills appealing. You must feel like a kid in a candy store.

  9. Ian, you must know everything about female desire, being a man and all, but let me disagree. And I do happen to be a woman. :P

    • And I “happen” to be a Sex Nerd who has spent the last 20 years or so studying female desire, female sexuality, and female sexual psychology. I’m not going to say I know everything, but I know a fair amount. And I probably know more about it than 99% of my male peers.

      The difference is that I also study MALE desire, and while that has been dismissed as an easy subject, like many assertions it does not stand up under testing. And the interplay of male and female desire is fascinating.

      Almost no men will admit to understanding women’s desire, and barely understand their own. Most women will say that they understand women’s sexual desire and male sexual desire when the reality is they have only the vaguest idea about their own and virtually nothing about men. But a few of us are willing to slog on and try to make the leap into understanding. That doesn’t mean we know everything about female desire . . . but oftentimes it means we know more than most women.

  10. Pingback: it’s not the money | Emily Nagoski :: sex nerd ::

  11. Yes, but whose desires have you been studying, Ian – those of men and women who were adults 20 years ago, or people who are just settling into their sexualities now?
    I think there has been a sea change in what types of desire men and women can own and express. Just as women’s desires are affected by men’s priorities, men’s are influenced by women’s. Men are valued by women for different qualities these days (can you tell I’ve just read Emily’s latest post?) The ‘Alpha’ male and his priorities are starting to look pretty irrelevant in many parts of the world; and if he’s not careful he’s going to end up rather lonely and bitter.

    • Au contraire: our popular culture screams with the desire for a revalorized masculinity. If “Alpha” as so passe, then why are women craving it so much that it seethes from every commercial pointed in their direction? Why are they leaving their Beta husbands for the “Eat, Pray, Love” style hypergamic pursuit of the Alpha? Would “the most interesting man in the world” and the “Old Spice Dude” be top figures of popular culture if there wasn’t a deep desire for the traditional masculine?

      Whether or not the Alpha priorities are irrelevant or not (and having the characteristics of being a good provider is never sexually irrelevant for women) the fact is that women rarely make their mating decisions based on their calm assessment of the merits of the match and usually end up making a mating decision based on purely emotional issues. Those emotional issues carry a strong dose of sexual attraction, and women tend to display much higher sexual attraction for Alpha behavior than Beta behavior.

      The fact is, it isn’t the Alpha males who are lonely and bitter — far from it. They’re working largish harems of single, independent women who can’t find a sustaining relationship but don’t mind tearing one off with Mr. Wrong But Hunky. The bitter ones are the Beta women who have been told that their femininity, however it has developed, is sufficient stock to attract Prince Charming, and then get talked out of any relationship that might lead to happiness by their own self-doubt and the dubious counsel of her friends. The older Beta dudes are starting to marry younger, now, because Gen Y women have a far more family-friendly outlook than Gen X women, and are far less likely to jump to divorce at the drop of a hat.

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