TCS Daily

The Importance of Brad and Jennifer... and Maureen Dowd

By James D. Miller - January 31, 2005 12:00 AM

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd complains that men with high-powered jobs would rather marry secretaries than their career equals. She further laments that the more a woman achieves in her career the less desirable she becomes to men. Dowd, of course, blames this situation entirely on men. But Dowd is wrong because it's women, not men, who are at fault here.

Although children are a blessing, they're also time sinks. Two married people can't both work jobs for 60+ hours a week and have enough time to raise a few kids properly. Realizing this, many men who intend to have several children and time-intensive jobs often seek women who are more child- than career-oriented. But what about ambitious women? What do they need to do?

I teach at Smith College, an elite women's school. Almost all of my students would rather date a selfish investment banker than a nice, attractive administrative assistant. But for a Smithee who hopes to raise several children while making partner at a top-law firm, an administrative assistant might make a far better match than an investment banker. True, the investment banker would earn much more money, but what anyone with a time-consuming job and children really needs is a spouse who can devote much more effort to children than to career.

Dowd quotes a psychologist who actually claims that women aren't less attracted to men who have lower career status than they do. This to me seems about as reasonable as asserting that men aren't attracted to women with nice figures. In fact, I suspect one reason men are so career oriented is that we know the value women place on job status.

Furthermore, the first paragraph of Dowd's column contradicts her claim that women don't mind dating men with lower status jobs. Dowd writes:

        "A few years ago at a White House Correspondents' dinner, I met a very 
        beautiful actress. Within moments, she blurted out: 'I can't believe 
        I'm 46 and not married. Men only want to marry their personal assistants 
        or P.R. women.'

This beautiful actress must have been regularly hit on since she was fifteen and, I imagine, could easily have found a man to marry. But she only wants to marry men, such as studio heads, who have their own personal assistants and P.R. women. These studio heads, however, didn't want to make a Brad Pitt-like mistake and marry a woman whose career would prevent her from having and raising children.

Dowd asks if the "feminist movement [is] some sort of cruel hoax? The more women achieve, the less desirable they are?" The answer is "yes" for any woman who defines achievement only in career terms. This type of woman would want only a man with a high-powered job, but what could she offer him? He doesn't need her income since he already makes a good living himself. If he wants offspring, what he most needs in a wife is someone to be primarily a caregiver; someone who considers successful child raising the highest possible achievement.

The majority of working parents can find enough time to spend with their children, but only because most of us have jobs that don't require 60+ hours of work each week. But the few who intend to climb to the very tops of their career ladders and are therefore willing to devote nearly every waking hour to their jobs face a choice of (A) not having children, (B) having neglected children, or (C) having a spouse who is willing to devote little time to his or her job. Dowd shouldn't attack ambitious men who have chosen option (C). Rather, she should convince career-oriented college women that they should stop dreaming of marrying investment bankers and start looking for men who don't want high-status, time-intensive jobs.

James D. Miller writes The Game Theorist column for TCS and is the author of Game Theory at Work


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