As I’ve written on the home page today, I’ve got my own issues with Tucker Carlson’s viral populist monologue, but there’s one thing he says that’s exactly right:
Study after study has shown that when men make less than women, women generally don’t want to marry them. Maybe they should want to marry them, but they don’t. Over big populations, this causes a drop in marriage, a spike in out-of-wedlock births, and all the familiar disasters that inevitably follow — more drug and alcohol abuse, higher incarceration rates, fewer families formed in the next generation.
A number of progressives have called him out for this statement, including the ladies of The View, but the best evidence indicates that he’s correct. To take just one example, according to a 2016 study, while women are increasingly happy to marry less-educated men, they still tend to marry-up in income, and this is especially true for highly-educated women. Here, for example is an excerpt of an Institute for Family Studies interview with the study’s author, Yue Qian, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia:
You found that despite advancements in women’s educational achievement and workforce participation, women continue to marry up in income, especially when they are more educated than their husbands. Tell us more about that finding.
Yue Qian: For analytical purpose, I classified each individual’s income by the decile he or she occupied in the income distribution of the 1980 and 2008–2012 analytic samples, respectively. My study showed that for a majority of couples, husbands were in a higher income decile than their wives regardless of the time period and the educational pairing of spouses.
Using sophisticated statistical models (log-linear models) to control for gender differences and shifts in marginal distributions of education and income, I found that the tendency for women to marry up in income was greater when they married down in education: Women were 93 percent more likely to marry men in higher income deciles than themselves among couples in which the wife had more education than the husband than among couples in which the wife had less education than the husband.
What about couples with similar education levels?
Yue Qian: For the most part, the tendency for women to marry up in income was greater among couples who shared the same education level: When compared with couples in which the wife had less education than the husband, the tendency for women to marry up in income was 54 percent higher among couples in which both spouses had a high school education, 31 percent higher among couples in which both spouses had some college education, and 23 percent higher among couples in which both spouses had a college degree or above.
I didn’t read Tucker as condemning women’s educational and income achievements, I read him as stating a challenging fact. If women continue to achieve academic success and economic success (a good thing!), but they persist in desiring to marry higher-earning men (an understandable thing!), and male wages decline or remain stagnant (a bad thing!), then we will face an increasing threat to our nation’s marriage culture. Since we do not want women to fall back educationally or economically, we need two things to happen at once. First, we want male educational achievement to surge and male incomes to no longer remain stagnant — thus increasing every family’s financial stability. Second, we want our nation’s men and women to form lifelong healthy bonds regardless of income disparities. After all, income is important, but it’s not a stand-in for the virtues that truly bind families together.
This is far, far easier said than done, and no one has a neat five-point plan for accomplishing the necessary cultural and economic transformation, but it does no good to deny reality. There are lots of reasons why a woman might want to marry a higher-earning man (to take just one — a high-earning man grants greater security if the woman wants to stay home longer — or indefinitely — with children, something that lots and lots of women want to do.) At the same time, a married couple is stronger together even if a man’s lesser earnings may render the family more economically-vulnerable than they may want.
Only utopians believed that you could disrupt the single-male-earner cultural norm and reap only rewards. Negative side effects often accompany even positive social change, and in modern America those negative side effects are exacerbated by a culture that too often mocks traditional forms of masculinity as inherently toxic. A strong marriage culture is indispensable to our national health, and our marriage culture can’t be strong if men continue to fall behind.