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Looking for Superman?

Your adult daughter calls brimming with exciting news, “I’ve met a guy I really like.” Our Pavlovian response, after the “Where did you meet?” is usually “And what does he do?”

Be honest: We’re hoping that Prince Charming comes with suitable employment and at least the same educational pedigree as our daughters. Yet, it’s getting harder to find princes to match the achievement levels of all those princesses roaming the kingdom. Women earn 60 percent of college degrees and are expected to cross the 50 percent line with advanced degrees and doctorates. (An issue m21 covered in “You Go Girl!”) While young women are earning more letters after their names, some prognosticators posit that higher education hurts their chances of getting “Mrs.” in front of their names.

In a timed-for-Valentine’s-Day article, cultural historian Stephanie Coontz argues that, unlike when we and our mothers were young adults, advanced degrees no longer mean that educated women are more likely to remain single. In “The M.R.S. and the Ph.D.,” she notes that “From 1940 to the mid-1970s, the tendency for men to marry down educationally became more pronounced and the cultural ideal of hypergamy — that women must marry up — became more insistent.”

Fortunately “Mad Men” times have changed, and there’s no longer any difference in the percentage of married and unmarried women in their 30s based on educational levels.

Unfortunately what hasn’t changed, Ms. Coontz notes, is that too many young women still suffer from the “Lois Lane syndrome,” fantasizing about marrying Superman and ignoring the adoring glances of Clark Kent. As Ms. Coontz writes, citing various studies, Clark makes better husband material

The most important predictor of marital happiness for a woman is not how much she looks up to her husband but how sensitive he is to her emotional cues and how willing he is to share the housework and child-care. And those traits are often easier to find in a low-key guy than a powerhouse.

So when our daughters discuss the guys encountered during adventures in dating, perhaps we should not be so quick to judge the man by his cover, and urge her to do the same. Take note of the advice offered by one of the article’s commenters, now happily married to a physician:

When I was a young, struggling scientist (with excellent prospects however) most of the “educated women” would not give me a second look. It was made all too clear that what they desired was someone with a better resume, job and especially bank account… [Now married 25 years] we both have excellent well paying jobs…and have always split the household responsibilities, I shop and cook and she cleans. So girls with a degree do yourselves a favor: once in a while give a nerd the time of day and you just may be surprised.

Great advice that we hope young women heed, especially those of us who raised wonderful sons—many Clarks among them!

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