Marriage a la mode

This one's for all the college-educated lonely hearts out there, just in time for Valentine's Day.

It's for the women who gobble up books with titles like "He's Just Not That Into You," who sign up with multiple matchmaker Web sites, who maybe even thumb through well-worn copies of the Mars and Venus books.

Ladies, you seem to be focusing on matrimony as the answer to your worries — and overlooking a key truth about marriage today: that tying the knot is becoming more of a boon for men than it is for women.

A recent Pew Research Center report confirms what the current recession is bringing home all too clearly, with more men being laid off than women. Men, not women, now receive the greatest economic boost from marriage. This has to do with the fact that women are marrying later, that more of them are earning college degrees and that pay scales for women are rising.

An educated, working wife is a valuable asset. And if you're a bright single woman of a certain age with a career, you ought to consider yourself a catch. Not that I expect to see that message embossed on heart-shaped candies anytime soon. "Will u be my sugar mama?" The recession, added to longstanding trends such as deindustrialization and the decline of union jobs — which have affected male workers disproportionately — is hastening this cultural shift away from traditional ideals of married families.

Median household income rose 60 percent from 1970 to 2007 for married men, married women and unmarried women. But for those wifeless chaps, it rose only 16 percent. Ouch.

Many a family budget has been salvaged by the woman's income after the male is laid off. Other studies show that men, not women, are now more likely to report that work conflicts with family life. Talk about role reversals.

Still other studies (including one conducted for the Council on Contemporary Families) have shown that women who marry later, and those with higher education, are more apt to stay married and report their relationship to be fulfilling. And households with a sole breadwinner who is male — that long-held ideal — well, they are more apt to shut down in divorce.

Studies like these cast withering light on the constant complaining we hear from conservatives who fancy themselves defenders of the traditional family. It seems all that feminist agitation for equality might have been beneficial to marriages — and men — after all.

These findings also ought to lead us to shed outdated cultural assumptions about women who reach a certain age without marrying — namely, that ladies who wait too long are bound for disappointment and spinsterhood.

Apparently, these old assumptions die hard. Look for the next breakthrough best-seller in dating self-help to be "Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough," due for release in February. The book — which reportedly has already been optioned for film — is premised on the notion that a woman's value as a marriageable entity declines as she ages. Best grab Mr. OK while you can, ladies! I envision a somewhat different title: "Marry Up, Men: The Case for Choosing Accomplished Wives and the Happiness (and Paycheck) They Bring."

Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at

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