A magazine journalist, Eileen, age 34, said she understands the media craze for bad news. "There's a very powerful need to create a subcategory of people to feel superior to, so if you've chosen to give up your career to get married and have kids, you might feel like it's only fair that successful women shouldn't get married. You made your choice and they made theirs," she states bluntly.
But then Eileen pauses, and considers yet another option: that the quest for Mr. Right is long and full of tough moments along the way, and doom-and-gloom articles will always reflect the depression of young women after yet another bad blind date, another failed relationship, another guy who didn't call.
"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 said.
Another reason these dire statistics have such resonance: They were true for our aunts and mothers and older mentors. In 1980, the median age of marriage nationwide for women was 22. But according to the 1980 Census, a woman with a graduate degree was twice as likely to still be single between the ages of 25 and 34 than a woman who had a college degree or less. In fact, 1 in 5 women with graduate degrees (20.5 percent) had not married by age 34, compared to 1 in 10 women without graduate degrees (9.6 percent).
So when newspapers report that women achievers find it difficult to find men, it resonates with a lot of ambitious SWANS who aren't getting what they want quite yet. And though we all need a good bitch session every now and then -- and though it always seems worse for us than for anyone else -- the news, girls, is good.
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.
The Real Story
To get numbers to tell a story, it's necessary to pull out some particular groups to test. Most researchers use education and income as a substitute for achievement, which, let's face it, is hard to define and measure precisely, even if we all agree we know what it means. Others look at the sexiness of status (Is having a high-powered job related to sexual attraction?). And still others explore power and ambition.
The original research presented in this book defines high-achieving women as women with a graduate degree -- a master's, doctoral, or professional degree in any field -- and/or an income in the top 10 percent of women in their age group; that means women ages 24 to 34 who, in 2005, earned $50,000 per year or more, and women ages 35-40 who earned $60,000 per year or more.