Why Men Can’t Compete with Staying Single in the Marriage Market

Conservatives have been having palpitations for the last week over the news that the American Psychological Association, in news that surprises no one who pays attention, has acknowledged that traditional notions of masculinity–toughness, emotional ineptitude, dominance expressed through violence–are bad for them. They’re also bad for women, children, relationships, friendships, other men, the crime rate, the suicide rate, our politics, nature, etc.

Joel has already pointed to some of the inconsistencies in opposition to this recognition. I want to look at a related piece of information in the handwringing about the “decline of traditional masculinity”: worry that women are outearning men.

Now, this is a huge and complex issue that has to do with sexism, racism, labor, law, and more. But I want to take up just one point: that as women earn more money, the marriage rate declines.

Tucker Carlson had a bonkers segment on this last week, earning him a lot of scorn, decrying women at work as the reason men are suffering. His interpretation of the facts is unintelligent but his facts aren’t wrong: women are less likely to marry men who earn less than them than men are to marry women who earn less than them. Carlson’s conclusion is that feminism, which encourages women to pursue better paying jobs, is ruining marriage.  It’s a weird conclusion for a conservative to draw since it violates the principle that the market should decide the value of labor, both in the sense that if women are earning more, that’s because the market values them more and if men’s value in the marriage market is declining, that’s they should probably make themselves more marketable, just like we tell minimum wage employees to do.

But, in his facts, Carlson is correct: The large majority of women marry men who earn more than them; as the salaries of women increases, the pool of opposite-sex partners with incomes higher than theirs shrinks.

The real trouble here is that wealth-marries-wealth. Doctors no longer marry nurses; they marry other doctors. This means that money circulates in an ever smaller circle, a problem that’s certainly not new (The wealthiest families in Florence, Italy from the 15th century are still the wealthiest families today.) but is exacerbated by a bifurcation in marriage: the wealthy marry each other even as the marriage rates falls among the poor. This upward suck of wealth is only going to get worse as Baby Boomers, the richest generation in US history, continue to collect inheritance money with obscenely low estate taxes.

But instead of blaming it on their beloved free market, conservatives have come to the conclusion that it’s women’s increasing wages (not declining wages, not union busting, not outsourcing or automation) that is making less attractive to women. This misses the obvious: it’s capitalist greed that devalues work and it’s men who ruin marriage.

If marriage were great for women, we’d do it even if it cost us money. Now that we don’t have to marry in order to have a decent income, we don’t.

That’s nothing to mourn. What is sad is that it probably means that if our grandmas could have succeed without marriage, they would have. We should feel sad about the marriages that they got stuck in because they couldn’t afford to be single.

If men want to be worth marrying, they can be. And you know what can help them? Feminism, which isn’t an attack on men but an attack on the sexism that teaches us to devalue our whole selves in favor of torturous (I mean that word literally–we are contorted) gender stereotypes.

See the source image

And if men want to earn wages that make them an attractive partner–that is, wages that can support a family with dignity–then they need to properly identify the enemy. It’s not women. It’s capitalism.



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