[Note: Forbes deleted from its Web site the story discussed in this piece some time Wednesday afternoon. But the story has reappeared, posted alongside a rebuttal by Elizabeth Corcoran. The slide show referred to below is still down, but we’ve left the links in in case that reappears, too.]
The furious blog reaction to Michael Noer’s Forbes piece, “Don’t Marry Career Women,” posted to the Web yesterday, makes the piece sound like an ugly example of “backlash” journalism. If you’re not familiar with the genre, backlash stories are the kind feminists believe are 1) full of beans and 2) designed to keep women down. Here’s the piece’s beginning:
Guys … whatever you do, don’t marry a woman with a career.Why? Because if many social scientists are to be believed, you run a higher risk of having a rocky marriage. While everyone knows that marriage can be stressful, recent studies have found professional women are more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat, less likely to have children, and, if they do have kids, they are more likely to be unhappy about it.
Classics of the backlash genre include Newsweek’s “The Marriage Crunch” cover story from two decades ago, which alleged that a 40-year-old unmarried woman was “more likely to be killed by a terrorist” than to ever wed; Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s bookCreating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, about older women’s biological clocks running out; and the New York Times Page One story from last fall about women at elite colleges who intend to spurn careers in favor of motherhood.
The blogs entries collected by Technorati accuse Forbes of culling the academic literature for fodder that will shove women back into the kitchen; send them back to the 1950s; and force them to put their biscuits in the oven and get their buns in bed.
But I’ve yet to read a blog item or a protesting e-mail from a reader that convinces me that the article—as opposed to the deliberately provocative headline—really insults women, career or otherwise.
Some of the sensational findings presented in the Forbes piece appear to be gender-neutral and hence don’t bait feminists at all. For instance, Noer holds that the literature indicates that “highly educated people are more likely to have had extra-marital sex,” and “individuals who earn more than $30,000 a year are more likely to cheat.” So, if career women are bad marriage bets, so are career men. It’s a wash.
Noer also cautions against marrying career women because it’s “financially devastating.” “[D]ivorced people see their overall net worth drop an average of 77%.” But if your overall net worth is going to drop an average of 77 percent, wouldn’t you want your net worth to be higher, which it could be if you marry a career woman, as opposed to lower with a non-career woman?
The nine slide-show entries appear to be a holding pen for crap Noer couldn’t shoehorn into his overstuffed thesis. The headline to the first one, “You are less likely to get married to her,” is a non sequitur. That you are less likely to marry her can’t be a reason for not marrying her. The literature cited in the second slide, which is about divorce, refers only to the number of hours women work—not their education levels—and hence doesn’t seem to apply to Forbes’definition of “career women.” The fourth slide, “You are much less likely to have kids,” doesn’t allow that many “career women” don’t have kids by design. If you don’t want kids and don’t have them, there’s no tragedy, right? The fifth slide seems to be playing fast and loose with the facts. Its headline asserts, “If you do have kids, your wife is more likely to be unhappy.” The item is footnoted to an academic study and a USA Todaystory about the academic study. According to USA Today, the study found that affluent parents experience reduced marital happiness after spawning compared with middle-class parents. If this observation is about joint income, not a woman’s career, what’s it doing in the story about not marrying career women?
I won’t quarrel with the seventh slide, which tells men, “You’ll be unhappy if she makes more than you,” or the eighth, “She will be unhappy if she makes more than you.” If you find yourself in the predicament of being unhappy about the income disparity within your marriage, take my advice: You’re going to be unhappy about something, and if you’re unhappy about this please shut up and go buy yourself a Fiji vacation.
Before my female readers break their nails pounding out angry e-mails to me, they should consider the piece’s fundamental weakness. Forbes’ definition of a career woman is extraordinarily broad, including any woman who has a college education, works 35 hours a week, and makes more than $30,000. So, if you define non-career women as all the “undereducated” who work part-time and make less than $30K, it becomes painfully obvious why female careerists are more likely to divorce than non-careerists: They can better afford to get out of an unhappy marriage than their sisters.
That may be bad news for all the schmoes getting dumped, but it’s great news for the gals. So, go ahead, young ladies. Get your degree. Even go to grad school. Gun for that corner office if you want to and get the guy. If you divorce, make sure to stick him with the shared subscription to Forbes.
Don’t ask me to get upset about slide six—”Your house will be dirty” if you get married to a woman who makes more than $30,000. The same goes for slide nine—”You are more likely to fall ill” if your wife works. What upsets you about the piece? Bore me with your fury at email@example.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)
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