How would you advise your daughter?

by Grace

Would you advise your daughter to look for a husband while she’s in college?

Susan Patton set off internet mania with her recent ‘letter to the Daily Princetonian newspaper advising the school’s female students: “You will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you. . . . Find a husband on campus before you graduate.”‘

Her advice proved wildly unpopular among a vocal segment of progressive thinkers.

Feminist attacks on Ms. Patton began immediately—the paper’s website was swamped with complaints, the Twitter crowd was livid, and writers lit into her at Slate, New York magazine and beyond.

Another mother gave the same advice.

Five years ago when she was a Dartmouth college junior, Emily Esfahani Smith was surprised when her mother gave her similar advice to start looking for a husband.  Why would “a strong, career-oriented feminist” start pressuring her daughter to get married?

..  She knew what few, if any, feminists would tell young women today: There is far more to happiness than career success.

It turns out academically gifted women value their careers less than similar men do.

Career success and relationships are both undoubtedly important to women’s happiness, but many young and ambitious women value their personal lives more than their career aspirations. And that feeling intensifies over time.

In a 2009 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Lubinski and his team at Vanderbilt found that in a sample of academically gifted young adults, women became less career-oriented than men over time. As they approached middle age, women also placed more value than men on spending time with family, community and friends. These differences became more pronounced with parenthood.

Some reasons to try for early marriage:

  1. There is a larger pool of eligible men for younger women, given the historical patterns of assortative mating and hypergamy.
  2. Finding the right husband is important whether a woman wants to prioritize career or family.
  3. A good marriage can be personally fulfilling.

Some reasons to wait:

  1. In some cases, early marriages are at greater risk of divorce.  (The more important factors correlating with higher divorce rates appear to be marriage at age 20 or younger and the lack of a college degree.)
  2. Marriage may limit a woman’s education and career choices.
  3. Some people need more time to develop and understand their values.

The middle ground:

… Don’t get married so young you don’t understand life, or too old that you can’t experience the joy of losing yourself in a loving spouse and family. I’d spend a couple years seeing the world after the Ivy League before making the leap.

Megan McArdle expounded on the topic, and made the point that the “age at which the right person comes along depends on luck, not some kind of calendar”.

In this annoying but slightly amusing video, Garfunkel and Oates sing about how things change for a woman between the ages of 29 and 31.


6 Comments to “How would you advise your daughter?”

  1. Thank you for providing a balanced perspective on this issue! The firestorm caused by Patton’s letter has surprised me; I think many have taken her words out of context and tried to take the absolute worst view of her advice. While I’m not saying everyone should have an engagement ring by senior spring, I think there is merit in encouraging young women to think about building successful personal lives in addition to successful careers. Perhaps it’s less forward-thinking than feminists would like, but for many young women, marriage is still a cornerstone of the ideal life.


  2. Reblogged this on the amateur academic and commented:
    A balanced summary of the issues surrounding the conversation started by Susan Patton’s letter encouraging Princeton women to look for a husband before graduating. Much of the media backlash against Patton has called her advice anti-feminist, retrogressive, and elitist, but I think there is compelling reason not to write off her advice.


  3. Actually, I think it is more important for men to find mates while in college (or grad school), since the main social contacts after college tend to be career-related, and the male/female ratio in most careers gets progressively larger as they age.


  4. “They can look for a husband while in college, but they’re not likely to find guys who want to get married that young.”

    Maybe college women should look among the alumni community for husbands. (Only half kidding!)


  5. On the importance of MEN looking for wives during their college years –
    But men don’t have to worry (as much) about a biological timetable for having children, so they have more time after college to find wives. Plus, I don’t read much about men in their late 20s or older having trouble finding marriage mates.


  6. I know some older engineers who have never found mates, now working in companies that are >80% male. There are just as many men as women unable to find mates (until you get to high enough ages that the men are dying off).


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