"Most of my guy friends would say they have to be able to have a conversation with their wives," said Melissa, who has just finished her master's degree. "I think most of my [male] friends went to good schools and are surrounded by smart women. My brother has a JD/MBA and he's married to a woman who is a doctor, and they got married later. More so now than 50 years ago, men want women who are their equals or superiors."
Melissa's boyfriend, Michael, is proud of her successes. "When I meet one of Michael's friends, they'll say, 'I heard that you dogged him on the ski slopes and you're smarter than he is,' and you know, men want that, a girl who will challenge them and not say 'Yes, dear, here's your scotch and soda.' I mean, he was the one who told his friends that to begin with."
"What I think they are mixing up in those studies is that men do like to be taken care of, but taking care of a guy doesn't mean that you are subordinate. I would make a drink, but then I'd sit down and talk to him about any given issue," concluded Kristen.
Like more and more SWANS, these women's instincts are borne out by the current numbers. For instance, according to data from the 2005 Current Population Survey, an unmarried 30-year-old woman is more likely to have made it to the altar by age 40 if she has a graduate degree than if she doesn't. There's a two-thirds chance that a 30-year-old woman will marry if she has a college degree or less, but there's a three-quarters chance she'll be a bride if she has an advanced degree. By ages 35 to 39, a higher percentage of high-achieving women have walked down the aisle than their less accomplished sisters.
Geography doesn't matter either: In cities and suburbs, large cities and small cities, these data hold true. In Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, and San Diego -- the largest U.S. population centers where SWANS flock -- high-achieving women marry at the same rate as all other women in their area.
The Price of the Success Myth
New data reveal that a high-achieving woman is more likely to marry just the kind of man conventional wisdom would suggest would be intimidated by her apparent success. More than half of married women with graduate degrees are married to men without graduate degrees. Clearly, men who aren't intimidated by SWANS do exist.
Having a higher income than one's significant other doesn't make much of a difference in women's marriage rates. So the idea that men are intimidated by a woman who might outearn them doesn't hold true, either. Yet the myth that successful women are overqualified for love seems to persist.
This myth has high costs for today's SWANS. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy that, although it doesn't affect SWANS' marriage rates, does cause pain and anxiety and may lead to some undesirable choices. Women who are panicked about their marriage prospects are more likely to give off negative or desperate vibes to men, and SWANS who believe that men will be intimidated by their education or success may find that it's really ego and attitude -- not their success -- that are getting in the way. For other women, the relentless pressure from relatives and bad news in the headlines makes them insecure enough to stay in bad relationships too long.