Men Are More Likely to "Marry Up" As Women Outearn (and Outlearn) Them

As Biggie put it: “It's like the more money we come across the more problems we see.”

Updated 10/31/17
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Women have been on the come-up for several decades now. In fact, a recent Pew Research study found that it only took 35 years, from 1980 to 2015, to narrow the wage gap between men and women by a whole 20 cents. Yay, progress! (Ugh...) Never mind that women overall still only make 80 cents to every dollar earned by men—and women of color generally earn much less.

Fortunately, 2059 is just around the corner: That’s when, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women will finally reach pay parity. (Black women have to wait until 2124, and Hispanic women until 2248, for equal pay.)

In truth, we’re nowhere near the egalitarian society we deserve to live in. But women are earning more money than we ever have historically. Thanks to the medical beauty of birth control (which allows women the ability to actually have some say over when to start a family), it’s now more possible than ever to go to—and finish—college or pursue advanced degrees. In fact, women have been outnumbering men in American colleges since the late 1970s. And while college isn’t for everyone, that opportunity has paved the way for women to get into many of those higher-paying jobs our grandmothers could only dream about.

But, of course, we are still party to a patriarchal society. The real question is: what does all of this progress mean for men? A new study published this month in the journal Demography attempts to find out.

When researchers analyzed U.S. Census Data from 1990 and 2000 and the years 2009-2011 for people 35 to 44 years old, they found that women’s annual personal income grew about three times faster than men’s—though men still earned 69% more than women as of 2011. But when they looked at the standard of living among married women, they found that it actually declined. That's right—declined. Odd, since their bank accounts were theoretically swelling.

Yet for men, the standard of living increased. Because the number of highly educated women have exceeded the number of highly educated men, men are far more likely to “marry up,” the study’s authors write, a term historically reserved just for us womenfolk.

It turns out, men appear to just not be doing their part when it comes to contributing to the family piggybank. Their earnings have actually stagnated (except in the highest income bracket) over the last several decades. And now that women are making more money, they’re having to compensate for their partners.

“Married men at all levels of education benefited from a rising standard of living despite the decline in personal earnings among men without a bachelor’s degree,” the study's authors write. “By contrast, women without a degree in higher education endured a dwindling standard of living over this period regardless of whether they are married. As far as the standard of living is concerned, our results show that married men have been the main beneficiary of women’s progress.”

In other words, now that women are bringing more of the bacon home—which they are probably cooking themselves—men are eating better.

"This could explain why it seems men don't complain a lot about this," said lead author ChangHwan Kim, an associate professor of sociology at University of Kansas, in a statement. "Our answer is that's true because look at the actual quality of life, which is determined more likely by family income rather than by personal earnings. It seems fine for men because their wife is now bringing more income to the household. One implication of these findings is that the importance of marriage market has increased for men's total economic well-being."

"When we consider family dynamics," Kim continued, "men are getting the benefit from women's progress."

Mo' money, mo' problems, amirite?

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