Certainly there are many SWANS who don't fit this rigid national numerical definition. There are towns and cities where earning much less than $50,000 earns a woman a place in the top 10 percent of earners in her area. There are plenty of successful, talented, and ambitious women who have chosen not to go to grad school or who have taken prestigious but lower-paying jobs in public service, the arts, politics, or diplomacy. They are women who aspire to be outstanding at whatever profession or activity they choose. Success, and the aspiration to succeed, comes in many forms. Better still, success is sexy, and the new numbers show that higher income and education increases a woman's chances of marriage.
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.
Research by Megan Sweeney, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, adds another data point to the good news plot: 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.
And the trend only improves. Economist Elaina Rose at the University of Washington studies the relationship between marriage rates and education level, and how the two have affected each other over time. By looking at U.S. Census records going back several decades, Rose has tracked the diminishing marriage "success penalty." Twenty-five years ago, a woman with a graduate degree was 13.5 percent less likely to have ever married at age 40 to 44 than a woman with only a high school diploma. In percentage terms that's a big number. By the 2000 Census, that penalty had largely disappeared.
There's already plenty of data to anticipate more good news in the upcoming 2010 Census. The Current Population Survey (CPS), a yearly representative sample of 60,000 households nationwide, tracks education, income, and marriage data. Based on 2000 and 2001 CPS data, Heather Boushey at the Center for Economic Policy Research in Washington, DC, demonstrated that working women between the ages of 28 and 35 who earn more than $55,000 per year (well above the U.S. median) or have a graduate degree are just as likely to be married as other women who work full-time. According to the newest available data, the 2005 CPS, for women with an advanced degree and for women who earn in the top 10 percent of all female earners for their age group, there's no marriage penalty. High-achieving women marry at the same rates as all other women; they just do it a little later.