Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Where the Smart Women Are

An item from the April 2005 The Atlantic Monthly:

The bad news is coming fast for brainy career women. For one thing, they're less likely to get married—perhaps because (according to a study recently published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior) men prefer to date and marry women who occupy subordinate positions in the workplace, or because (according to a survey carried out by four British universities) female intelligence itself reduces the odds of wedlock. (The latter study found that for every 15-point increase in IQ score above the average, women's likelihood of marrying fell by almost 60 percent.)

Given the dominant idea blowing through our culture that all differences originate in unequal power, the lesson we might be expected to take from these results are that women successful at finding a mate are "dumber" or less powerful. But this explanation is simplistic. Speaking from my own experience at looking for a mate, intelligence is important, but even more an elusive, uniquely feminine quality that might be termed "sweetness."

There are plenty of other interpretations for these experimental results.

  • Could it be that our culture's expectation that a smart person of either sex will exploit his intelligence in a masculine mode motivate "smart" women largely busy themselves advancing in the professional world, instead of being free for a relationship?
  • Could it be that men (whom even modern, "liberated" women expect to initiate contact) feel less threatened by women lower in the hierarchy?
  • Could it be that men (even those who do not desire children) are looking at least unconsciously for qualities that make a good mother?
  • Could it be that women have a different form of intelligence than men, one that the male-devised IQ test cannot measure?
  • Could it be that women with a higher male-IQ usually have a lower female-IQ (or less of some other feminine quality)?
  • Could it be that truly smart women appreciate the great satisfaction that both men and women derive from family? (These women, it would seem, certainly are more "fit" from a Darwinian point of view.)

All these ideas beg the question of why we are comparing men and women by the same yardsticks in the first place. As I've noted before, there is an essential difference between the sexes: women and men tend to have different primary skills sets. Even more: if, as society would have us believe, "everything is relative" and one point of view (or one person) has no more merit than another, then surely measuring itself is irrelevant. No?

Stephanie L. Brown and Brian P. Lewis, "Relational Dominance and Mate-Selection Criteria: Evidence That Males Attend to Female Dominance," Evolution and Human Behavior 25:6 (November 2004), 406-415.

Michelle D. Taylor, et al., "Childhood IQ and Marriage by Mid-life: the Scottish Mental Survey 1932 and the Midspan Studies," Personality and Individual Differences 38:7 (May 2005) 1621-1630.

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