“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” reads the opening lines of Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice.” How has the relationship between income and marriage changed since the classic love story captured our hearts?
A man’s financial prospects used to be one of the most desirable qualities for him to possess as a potential spouse (Remember Mr. Darcy and his 10,000 pounds a year?). However, a lot has changed since 19th century Jane Austen. Women have surpassed men in educational attainment, men are no longer expected to be the sole breadwinner for their family, and many couples are embracing the dual-income lifestyle.
So how does this impact the relationship between income and marriageability for men and women? Well, despite the dramatic cultural shift towards a seemingly gender-egalitarian society, income still predicts the likelihood of marriage… but only for men.
Income Indicates the Probability of Marriage for Men but Not for Women
According to this study on personal income and the probability of marriage, high-income men are more likely to marry than low-income men, whereas income is not associated with the probability of marriage for women.
Income also predicts marital success for both men and women. High-income men are less likely to divorce than low-income men. The opposite is true for women. High-income women are more likely to divorce than low-income women.
High-income men are less likely to divorce than low-income men.
The results of the study indicate that women in search of a husband value a man’s financial prospects, whereas a woman’s financial prospects are of less importance to a man in search of a wife. High income helps a man’s marital success, whereas it can potentially hinder a woman’s marital success. The results are behavioral evidence that men and women have different priorities when searching for a long-term partner.
Why Women Are Interested in a Man’s Income
The feminist movement changed many social realities for women, but certain biological realities remain unchanged. Despite women entering the workforce and behaving socially more like men, women still have a biological need to rely on men. Women face certain vulnerabilities, such as pregnancy and child-rearing, that require protection and provision. Women are dependent on men to provide for themselves and their children, which is why women value a man with resources when selecting a mate.
Women are attracted to men with power and status. Women are hypergamous, meaning they mate up and across hierarchies. If a woman has a professional degree and earns six figures, she will typically look for a man with at least the same education level and earning potential. A woman looks to “marry-up” as a way to raise her status, and this is no exception when it comes to income.
Women are attracted to men with power and status because we’re hypergamous.
Now, this doesn’t mean that all women are gold-diggers and can only be happy with the highest-earning man. It may not be that most women place a high value on a man’s finances, but rather that women value the characteristics associated with income-earning such as intelligence, work ethic, and leadership skills. These qualities are indicators of good genes and the ability to provide.
Men Have Different Priorities
Men have different priorities when it comes to mate selection. Men are first and foremost interested in youth, beauty, and fertility when searching for a long-term partner. Men are also interested in personality compatibility, as well as qualities that make a woman a good wife and mother. A woman’s earning ability is in no way an indicator of these qualities and income earning could even be an indicator that a woman doesn’t prioritize these qualities.
The Mistake Modern Women Are Making
The mistake modern women are making is believing that what men are looking for in women is the same as what women are looking for in men. While a high-powered career, accompanied by multiple degrees and high earning potential, is a desirable trait in a man on the dating market, the same isn’t necessarily true for women.
I am by no means advocating that a woman should dumb herself down for a man, as high value attracts high value. But if a woman raises her status in an area that isn’t exactly valuable to men, such as in the area of career or income-earning, she isn’t actually raising her value in the dating market, but rather raising her standards for the kind of man she will accept as a long-term mate.
Men are not looking for the same things in women that women are looking for in men.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that a man won’t appreciate the accomplishments of a woman he is romantically pursuing, but if they come at the cost of higher priority traits, such as fertility, personality, or quality of character, a woman’s achievements out in the world can be more of a hindrance than a help. This goes completely in opposition to what most teenage girls are taught, which is that the best path to a happy life is through high achievement, academically and financially.
Having a high-powered career may benefit your financial well-being, but it's no guarantee of success in your personal life. Women should be careful to balance their personal and professional lives, and not buy into the trap that career success alone will provide meaning to their lives.
We’re two centuries removed from Jane Austen’s time, yet many truths remain unchanged. Women and men have different priorities when searching for a life partner, and a man’s income is still an indicator of the probability of marriage and marital success.
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