Pure Sex, Pure Love

Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women

Note to BustedHalo readers from Christine:

In February 2005 I wrote an article for BustedHalo under the title, “Overqualified for Love?” where I asked readers to share their thoughts on a pressing question for young-adults: Are smart, successful women at a disadvantage when looking for a spouse?

I wrote the article because I was concerned—both personally and professionally. I’d just finished my Ph.D., I was single, and I’d been reading about two studies that had been getting a lot of attention in the media, online and among my friends:

A University of Michigan study reported that college-educated men would prefer to marry a woman whom they considered subordinate—for example, an executive man would prefer to marry a secretary rather than a boss or a peer. In addition, a British study found that women with higher IQ scores were significantly less likely to marry than women with lower IQ scores— whereas the reverse was true for men.

If these studies were correct, a growing number of high-achieving women in their 20s and 30s would be facing a real problem. More than three times as many women receive master’s, doctoral or professional degrees now than did in 1970. Women make up 57 percent of college classes, nearly 50 percent of law-school and medical school classes. And young women in their 20s and 30s are climbing high in corporate, non-profit, educational and other prestigious jobs.


My book idea was purchased in large part because of the extraordinary and enthusiastic replies from the BustedHalo community: Simon & Schuster could see how popular this topic would be. So it gives me great joy that BustedHalo purchased the first online publication rights to my book, Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women

I coined an acronym for these women: SWANS … Strong Women Achievers, No Spouse. Will these SWANS stay single, despite their desire to get married?

The response I got to this article was tremendous—so many of you wrote in and shared your personal experiences. Many of you disagreed with this bleak assessment of the romantic chances of smart, successful women. And it turns out, you were right!

A few months later, after examining the most up-to-date U.S. Census and Current Population Survey data, I submitted a book proposal that shattered the myth that smart, successful women were less likely to marry. My good-news book idea was purchased by Simon & Schuster, in large part because of the extraordinary and enthusiastic replies from the BustedHalo community: Simon & Schuster could see how popular this topic would be.

So it gives me great joy that BustedHalo purchased the first online publication rights to my book, Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women, which will be available in bookstores nationwide on October 17. Below is the introduction and segments of the first few chapters to give you a sample of what’s in the book—and why you should read it!

If you’d like to buy a copy of the book, BustedHalo is selling copies directly through this website—and I’ll include a personal inscription. Also, visit my website, http://www.whysmartmenmarrysmartwomen.com to learn more about the book and to find out your odds of marriage in a new survey that I’ve designed using 2006 national data.

Thanks to all of you who have read my Pure Sex, Pure Love column during the last year and a half. Your letters, your support and your great ideas have enriched my research and given me spiritual strength. Thanks for your continued support—and I hope you enjoy Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women.

Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women


I’ll never forget the day I found the odd letter in my mailbox. It was addressed to me, in my own handwriting.

Dear Christine,

If all goes as planned you are 25 right now and in graduate school.

The note was a 1992 summer school assignment in which our class of 15-year-olds was instructed to write a letter to ourselves at age 25. A decade later, the program organizers made good on their promise to send on our predictions of life at age 25.

In addition to penning some humorous teen chatter (“I’ve met cool people and above all, guys: 4 guys liked me, 3 asked me out and 1 just had a crush on me”), I had made a 10-year life plan.

• Graduate from high school

• Go to a great college

• Go to law school

• Get married

• Raise kids

• Practice law

I read and reread the letter, shocked, laughing, and crying all at once. It was as if the little girl in me was standing right there, asking for a progress report.

I did graduate from high school, and I went on to college. And I was in graduate school, although instead of studying law I was doing my doctorate in economic and social history. (I assumed the Christine of 15 would be OK with that.)

But I wasn’t married (nor were there any immediate prospects in sight), and raising kids was the furthest thing from my mind.

It was the last line of the letter that most profoundly affected me.

Christine of 25, I hope things work out for you and you learn to find the balance between heart and mind.

Love, Christine of 15.

I was shocked—and thrilled—to find out that the “success penalty” was a thing of the past. In the past 25 years—yes, since the not-too-long-ago 1980s—the tide has been turning slowly, and while most of us were still looking at old data and buying into the conventional wisdom, major demographic shifts were going unreported.

Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women is a book born out of research, survey data, and the personal experiences of thousands of young men and women nationwide, including my own. It’s a book about shattering the bad news myths that smart, successful women can’t have personal and professional happiness.

In 2006, high-achieving women are just as likely—if not more likely—to get married and have happy, healthy relationships as they pursue their career dreams.

Still, the bad news has a hold on the minds of so many accomplished young women—and their well-meaning relatives and advisors. When single, successful women in their late 20s and 30s meet for coffee, for drinks, at book clubs, and between classes to talk about love and relationships, they frequently ask themselves: Are men intimidated by smart women? Is he going to break up with me when he finds out I make more than he does? Are there men out there who are actually attracted to my intelligence and share my goals and ambitions for the future?

This new generation of high-achieving and single young women has a new set of challenges as they search for what I called at 15 the “balance between heart and mind.” Our challenges are also our opportunities, and these new sets of choices build on the decisions of previous generations of smart, successful young adults.

In 1970, Elizabeth was a PhD candidate at Harvard’s School of Public Health. A tall, slim, strawberry blonde, she was popular with the boys but hadn’t met the right one yet. So she took out this ad in the Harvard Crimson:

If so, ignore this! Two ravishing Harvard XXs desire to meet bright and interesting XYs (over 5’10”, 21 yrs, plus) who are not threatened by intelligent attractive females. Box 1041.

Several men answered the ad, and she went out with one of them to a party, where she met Stephen, a law student at Harvard, who defied social conventions of the time: He was smitten with this perky, short-skirted PhD.

In 1971 they were married in a Catholic ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Instead of having children immediately, they pursued their careers. Sure, they intended to have a child eventually, but there was so much else to do. Beth founded a national public health organization and wrote several books. Steve made partner at his law firm. But the family pressure to have children was intense: A well-meaning aunt gave the pair a nightlight that blinked Tonight’s the night, Beth’s mother informed her that she couldn’t resist a half-price sale on maternity clothes, and when Beth’s first book was accepted for publication, her enthusiastic “GUESS WHAT?” was met with an awkward silence when the news wasn’t that grandchildren were on the way.

In 1975, Beth wrote A Baby . . . Maybe: A Guide to Making the Most Fateful Decision of Your Life. It was about how to make the choice to have a child—or not. It was a revolutionary book that documented the fears and hopes unique to her generation.

The book sold more than a million copies. The next year, Beth wrote a related book, Boy or Girl?, which examined the past and current state of knowledge about sexual selection. By December 1976, she was frequently on national television and radio shows discussing her findings—and her own indecision about having children. During one interview with the “A.M. Chicago” show, Beth was feeling queasy. She downed ginger ale and hoped she could get through the interview. Live on the air, the host asked Beth if she’d made up her mind about having children. Feeling a wave of nausea, she discussed the psychological quandary she and her husband were in. But she was pregnant, and the results of her decision were going to show soon.

I am the Baby . . . Maybe.

I was born in July 1977. My birth announcement includes the title of two of my mother’s books: A Baby . . . Maybe? with a big yes! next to the title, and Boy or Girl? with “girl” circled. Mom and I appeared in Newsweek and People magazines: This pioneering woman had made her decision, and the whole country wanted a good look at me.

It’s been 30 years since my mom published her provocative snapshot of the decisions facing her generation of successful women. Today, the question my generation faces is different. We can choose to have children or not; we can choose to marry or not. But for all those women who are smart, successful, and single in their 30s, there’s a new question: Are today’s high-achieving women overqualified for love?

This book draws on six years of my academic research about changing dating and marriage trends in the United States.

For the first five years of my research, I was pretty depressed: The data from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s reported that successful women were less likely to marry. Those decades didn’t seem like ancient history, so I applied the research to my life today. And as more and more women earned graduate degrees and higher salaries, I envisioned a generation of spinsters, overqualified for love.

I began this book when I was 27 years old, fresh from graduate school, and very much single. I’d ended two long-term relationships since college and had recently seen the New York Times wedding announcements for both of these men and their beautiful new wives. I’d just been dumped by a handsome businessman who told me that he couldn’t date me because I was intellectually intimidating. On the face of it, it was kind of funny. I assume he meant it as a way to let me down easily, like saying “You’re too good for me,” when he really meant the reverse.

I immediately called my girlfriends to meet at a local bar. They ordered tequila shots to numb my pain and then proposed a champagne toast to my freedom from this idiot. I smiled and toasted with them. To hell with men, we declared. Back at home, I cried myself to sleep, terrified I’d be alone forever because no one wanted to date a dorky PhD.

Soon after, my mother started her questions. “So, did you meet anyone last night?” Each time I saw my grandmother, she would grab my left hand, asking, “Where’s the ring? That PhD is fine and good, but you need your Mrs.”

In early 2005, my research took a more positive turn: At first I uncovered one, and then another overlooked academic article suggesting that high-achieving women were marrying at increasingly high rates. These articles, mostly written by economists, explored what they called the “success penalty”: Were women who had graduate degrees or a high income penalized in the marriage market? I discovered more academics interested in this topic at major research centers like Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Washington.

Using newly released government data, I ran my own analysis as well. I was shocked—and thrilled—to find out that the “success penalty” was a thing of the past. In the past 25 years—yes, since the not-too-long-ago 1980s—the tide has been turning slowly, and while most of us were still looking at old data and buying into the conventional wisdom, major demographic shifts were going unreported.

Nearly 3 million women in their 20s and 30s have advanced degrees, and 4 million women are already in the high-earning income brackets for their age groups. Millions more women are on their way up, aspiring to ambitious careers, climbing the ranks of their companies, and working toward their graduate and professional degrees. The single women in this group want to know if their accomplishments are hurting their chances at personal happiness. Married women and those in long-term relationships wonder how they can balance their career with family.

Through the course of this book I’ve been inspired by the energetic, passionate, intelligent, and honest women who shared their experiences openly. Theirs are the voices of millions of successful young American women like you and me. C’mon girls, it’s time for some good news.