Saturday, March 10, 2007

Assortative Mating

There have been a number of stories in the news in the past year or so about the social and other implications of 'like marrying like'. In this case 'like' doesn't refer to cultural background or social class, as marrying within those groups has occurred for eons, but in the context of education and career achievement level.

The reasons why well-educated, high-achieving women tend to marry similarly well-educated, high-achieving men are obvious.

There is an op-ed essay by Judith Warner on this topic in the New York Times today.

"Some economists worry that the concentration of income in high-achieving two-earner homes is aggravating the wealth gap."

I can see how assortative mating of high-income people might have economic implications, but isn't this a second order effect compared to the phenomenon of significant numbers of women having high-paying jobs and high-achieving careers for the first time in history? My knowledge of economics is quite low, but I would be surprised if assortative mating has a more significant effect on the gap between rich and poor than do the regressive economic policies of the current administration in Washington DC.

Where I have trouble following the thread of the discussion about the negative implications of assortative mating is when I read statements like these (also from the op-ed article):

"Some evolutionary psychologists say that pumping up certain kids' genes for intelligence will increase the achievement gap (by creating supersmart kids)..."


".. assortative mating among people with great skills in understanding and building systems, like engineers and economists, may be linked to the greater number of autistic children." (and not just autism, but also bipolar disorder and anorexia)

I am of course quite willing to believe that a college education does great things for one's mind and intellectual abilities, but surely there have always been smart women, even if undereducated and underrepresented in certain careers? For the quotation above to be valid, marriages between very intelligent women and much less intelligent men must once have been very common, and this must have been a good thing for the gene pool; the term "hybrid vigor" is mentioned in the NYT article -- what a repugnant phrase when applied to humans. Clearly, less-educated women used to marry better-educated men, but is that a rigorous indicator of "hybrid vigor"?

Is anyone keeping a list of how many of society's ills are the result of women having increased educational and career opportunities?


Anonymous said...

I think there are organizations out there that do, in fact, link things like higher crime rates, divorce rates, unemployment, all sorts of crazy things to the root cause being more women or mothers in the workplace (though not necessarily at any particular educational or skill level). The intended message is that those women should have shut up and stayed home to raise the babies and it's their fault if things don't work out perfectly the world around now because they exercised their options.

Unfortunately, no, I don't have the names or locations of those groups, but I've seen pamphlets and heard the radio callers in the past :(

Anonymous said...

I think the question should be how many society evils have been eliminated by educating women. Giving education to women was the best thing that has happened in past few thousand years.

When I write this I think of my grandmother who was an extremely smart woman, but she was deprived of education becuase her family was poor and her parents did not see any value in it. Once she learnt how to read and write her parents pulled her out of school and she started to work (at the age of 8). She cleaned for rich families and baby-sat their kids. She has been working extremely hard her whole life - cleaning, doing laundry, baby-sitting for others... Plus she raised 6 children. She was a working mother too, although without education and working for minimal amount of money. Her life and the life of her family would have been much easier were she allowed to get some decent education and a decent job. Her husband, my grandfather, worked too but they needed her income. She pushed all of her children to go to school and many of them (including my mom) got university degrees.

It just makes me completely mad when people talk about the bad impact of woman's education on society. They paint this rosy picture of women of past that had rich husbands and all they had to do was to stay at home and take care of kids, because they have been provided for. I suspect that the percentage of women living in such comfortable conditions was quite small. Women worked in the past too, they just did not have enough education to get better-paid jobs and have been taken advantage of. Education gives women a way out of poverty, self-sufficiency and a better life for them as well as their children.

Anonymous said...

Is anyone keeping a list of how many of society's ills are the result of women having increased educational and career opportunities?
And how many of these 'ills' were brought to our attention by men?

I've been considering doing a PhD (though in a very different field from yours), but reading your blog, sadly, discourages me, quite a bit. I don't think I'm passionate enough about academia, or think I'm good enough for it, to be willing to put up with all this sexist bullshit.

Am I a woman scientist? said...

LOL! This article sounds like a bunch of BS. There are several assumptions here, none of which ring true in my experience.

First, the people I went to graduate school with seemed on average to be no smarter than my college friends who did not get advanced degrees. (A few Ph.D. students were significantly dumber... and yet they've been granted doctorates....)

Second, yes of course there were brilliant women in the past (and even today) who did not get advanced degrees because of social issues... my great aunt springs to mind. Low education is not well correlated with low intelligence.

Third, I have not seen any evidence that smart parents only produce smart children. I have a few cousins who spring to mind (I am so glad I am anonymous... :-D).

Finally, I went to a very selective, highly ranked (snooty) liberal arts college with a) very smart people on financial aid (e.g., me); b) very smart and very rich people; and c) average intelligence people but very rich.
-In the a category, there are many of us (like me) who have not been able to translate graduate degrees into an embarrassment of riches. (Does the article's author know what the salarly levels are for professors and researchers in academia? Sheesh. Assistant professors married to assistant professors can be a sure recipie for economic disaster.)
-In the b category, there were a good number of students who didn't really seem motivated, and they did not go on to grad school (e.g., one guy opened his own surfboard shop). However they and the c category people are still quite wealthy.

In a nutshell, I don't see any possibility for ill effects from "assortitive mating", because education level is not a consistent sorting factor with respect to intelligence and wealth.

Ms.PhD said...

While I agree that this article is a bunch of BS, it makes me sad and angry that anyone really buys this crap.

I agree with most of the comments others have posted here on this. To me it's the same kind of ignorance that rails against genetically engineered vegetables. Basically, all the crosses farmers have been doing for eons, and all the 'mating' pairs that couples have been making, have always been based on our natural tendencies to evolve. We generally seek others who have some characteristics in common (intelligence, sense of humor) and some things we lack (better eyesight, straight teeth). This is all biology.

Of course for humans there are cultural influences (arranged marriages being a great example), but humans are not a species that naturally incorporates the herd mentality into mating choices for the greater good. As far as I know, there is no biology compelling us to give a shit what these conservative wackos think about who we choose as our mates!

I think this is just another example of a weak attempt at control. Just more complaints from stupid men who can't stand that women now have the economic power to be more discerning about choosing a life partner.

It's also an extremely heterosexual-centric view. Not having read the article, I'd be curious to know if the author doesn't also argue that the rise of lesbianism is taking otherwise fertile women out of the mating pool?!

Anonymous said...

My knowledge of economics is quite low, but I would be surprised if assortative mating has a more significant effect on the gap between rich and poor than do the regressive economic policies of the current administration in Washington DC

Really? Because the impacts of administrative policies (regardless of the administration) are on as broad-based a phenomenon as income inequality.

In any case, even if assortive mating were the single cause of income inequality (and without seeing the actual papers of the "worried" economists, I'm inclined to think that the article in the Times overplays the phenomenon's role) it would hardly imply that women having increased educational and career opportunities is a bad thing.

Jane said...

Is anyone keeping a list of how many of society's ills are the result of women having increased educational and career opportunities?

My count is 69,273. But I may have missed one or two. ;)

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with the apparent conclusion of the article (that the rise in educated women is worrisome), but I understand what the author is saying about changes in how females are valued leading to a different sort of assortative mating.

It used to be women were valued for their beauty or ability to bear children (or the size of their dowry). As we all know, that is no longer the case. bwaaahahahaha. ok, even if those things still count, the increase in valuing women for their brains, especially when it comes to mating during grad school, increases the chances of the smart marrying the smart.

I'm more worried about the disparity in wages between lower-rung workers and CEOs, though.