The college woman's to-do list: take interesting classes, make great friends, study abroad in an interesting locale and find a husband. While the first three goals seem standard for young women attending college, the final goal is the most critical to Susan Patton, a.k.a. the Princeton Mom. Last spring, Patton's open letter in The Daily Princetonian created a media frenzy. In her letter, Patton advised young women attending her alma mater to find a man to marry while attending college. Despite public outcry, the Princeton Mom continues championing her argument with the release of her new book, Marry Smart.
Marry Smart further develops Patton's arguments that women should focus their energy on their "Mrs." rather than B.S.. Patton suggests that women should focus on selecting an appropriate husband in college because women can work extra hard later in their careers to compensate for the time spent on safari hunting for husbands. Patton's advice, however, does not account for the social and demographic realties facing young women today both in the marriage and job markets.
A good guy is never easy to find. In fact, locating the rare species of a "good guy" is the perennial question asked by single women. According to Patton, the opportunity for college-educated women to meet an intellectual equal is considerably limited after graduation and that women have their best opportunity to hunt their prey while on college campuses. Patton overlooks the demographic reality that the median age of marriage in the United States is 26.9 for women and 28.9 for men. Men and women across educational groups have been delaying marriage since the 1970s and these delays are not exclusively linked to women attempting to further their careers. Delays in marriage can also be attributed to the increased amount of time necessary to establish financial stability and obtain gainful employment among men. Many men claim that financial stability is critical to being ready to marry. Given that most young men in college have yet to obtain gainful employment, the prospect of marriage upon graduating college is less than appealing.
Patton is also apparently vying for a job with the American Time Use Survey, given her suggestions about how women in college should allocate 75% of their time to finding a husband and 25% of their time to studying. I would recommend that she sticks to her day job. Overlooking the high cost of college tuition and questions regarding how women should actually spend their time finding a husband, Patton's suggestion does not make sense on a sociological level due to changes in the economic foundations of marriage. The economic foundations of marriage are no longer based exclusively on the financial prospects of a male partner.
As a result of major changes in the economy, dual income families have become the norm. Young men, especially highly educated men attending Princeton and comparable institutions, may be concerned about the labor market and financial prospects of their partner. To many young men, a wife now will not just fry up the bacon, but bring it home as well. Less time spent studying could negatively affect women's job market prospects following graduation. Young women would be well-advised to spend more than 25% of their time in the library if they want to be an attractive marriage partner. Delaying marriage also may make women more attractive partners from a financial perspective because college educated women who marry later make significantly more money than their counterparts who marry early.
Patton also does not fully appreciate the dating environment on college campuses. Although women, according to Patton, may want to find a marriage partner, the college campus environment is not conducive and is, dare I say, toxic to finding a husband. Hookup culture is pervasive and traditional dating is essentially dead on college campuses. As a result of hookup culture, young men and women are not socialized to be looking for a marriage partner. Needless to say, finding a man in college who has a marriage mindset is a very challenging task and presumably would require 100% of a young woman's time rather than Patton's proposed 75% time allocation.
Another issue that Patton does not consider is that delaying marriage and partner selection may benefit women in the long run. Despite high rates of divorce, the likelihood of divorce has decreased among college-educated individuals. Lower divorce rates among the more highly-educated are largely attributed to a later age at first marriage and increased resources. Increased knowledge may be an additional, albeit often overlooked, factor, due to difficulties associated with measurement, contributing to decreased rates of divorce among more educated individuals. By having more experiences with different partners, young women can make more informed choices about what they need and want from a romantic partner. For many women, choosing a husband later may be especially beneficial because most young people have yet to fully form their own identities, let alone be prepared to create a shared identity with a partner.
Patton also does not seem to appreciate what happens if a young woman is not successful at finding a young man in college. Presumably, young women who devote most of their time to cruising frat row looking for a husband have missed out on important personal, scholastic and social opportunities. College represents an opportunity for women to learn about themselves and form lasting friendships. Young women should not be burdened with the additional pressure of getting a ring by spring.
Marrying smart is important. The mates we select influence our health, well-being, assets and the life outcomes of our offspring. When and how we choose to go about looking for a partner are different questions. Although Patton raises interesting issues related to women in their mid-twenties to early 30s being concerned about their barren love lives and soon-to-be-barren wombs, her suggestion that finding a husband in college is critical to women's overall well-being is out of step with demographic and social realities. Young women today attend college to become well-rounded, educated individuals. While being a wife and mother may certainly be part of becoming a well-rounded individual for many women, becoming a huntress on the husband safari in college may not be the best choice for most women