Whether a young man's mother earned a college degree and whether she worked outside the home while he was growing up seems to have an effect years later when he considers his ideal wife, according to a study by University of Iowa sociologist Christine Whelan.
High-achieving men -- those who earn salaries in the top 10 percent for their age and/or have a graduate degree -- are highly likely to marry a woman whose education level mirrors their mom's.
Nearly 80 percent of the high-achieving men whose mothers had college degrees married women with college degrees, and 19 percent of them married women with graduate degrees. Of men whose moms had graduate degrees, 62 percent tied the knot with graduate degree holders, and 27 percent said "I do" to women with college degrees.
Sixty-eight percent of high-achieving men agreed with the statement, "Smart women make better mothers."
"Successful men in their 20s and 30s today are the sons of a pioneering generation of high-achieving career women. Their mothers serve as role models for how a woman can be nurturing and successful at the same time," said Whelan, a visiting assistant professor of sociology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "One man I interviewed put it like this: 'If your mother is a success, you don't have any ideas of success and family that exclude a woman from working.' This Mother's Day, I think we should thank those moms for leading the way toward gender equality for a younger generation."
Whelan is the author of "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" (Simon & Schuster, 2006), the first book to shatter the myth that success and spinsterhood go hand in hand.
With UI graduate student Christie Boxer, Whelan continues to analyze data from a Harris Interactive survey of more than 3,700 Americans conducted for her book in January and May 2006. The January survey included a nationally representative group of 1,629 high-achieving men and women ages 25-40. The May survey involved a nationally representative group of 2,073 adult Americans.
The researchers discovered that 72 percent of mothers of high-achieving men worked outside the home after they had children. Among those men, three-quarters agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "Men are more attracted to women who are successful in their careers." Men who grew up with working moms were almost twice as likely to marry a woman who makes $50,000 or more per year.
"These young men saw their mothers as smart women who could choose to work outside the home, and now that they're making decisions about what they want in a wife, it seems that they are choosing similar types of women," Boxer said.
Sixty-two percent of high-achieving single men disagreed with the statement "Women who are stay-at-home parents are better mothers than women who work outside the home." Almost three-quarters of the high-achieving men disagreed with the statement, "It is usually better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family."
The study reinforces findings from others in the field: "Younger men are much more egalitarian about marriage in general. They grew up with working mothers. Fifty-four million women work and an awful lot of those women are mothers. Their sons aren't looking for 'Leave It to Beaver' in their own house," said researcher Randi Minetor, author of "Breadwinner Wives and the Men They Marry."
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