Masculine Christianity’s Problem?

Masculine Christianity’s Problem? February 17, 2012

Stephanie Coontz:

One of the major issues today is the rise of education among women, making some men feel intimidated. I clipped some paragraphs from this article, and it is worth your read. In other words, the problem might be the education and confidence of women, while males are increasingly less educated than women today. That’s at least one of the social factors at work.

For more than a century, women often were forced to choose between an education and a husband. Of women who graduated from college before 1900, more than three-quarters remained single. As late as 1950, one-third of white female college graduates ages 55 to 59 had never married, compared with only 7 percent of their counterparts without college degrees.

Some of these women chose to stay single, of course, and that choice has always been easier and more rewarding for educated women. But the low marriage rates of educated women in the past were also because of the romantic and sexual prejudices of men. One physician explained the problem in Popular Science Monthly in 1905: An educated woman developed a “self-assertive, independent character” that made it “impossible to love, honor and obey” as a real wife should. He warned that as more middle-class women attended college, middle-class men would look to the lower classes to find uneducated wives.

That is exactly what happened in the mid-20th century. 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.

Postwar dating manuals advised women to “play dumb” to catch a man — and 40 percent of college women in one survey said they actually did so. As one guidebook put it: “Warning! … Be careful not to seem smarter than your man.” If you hide your intelligence, another promised, “you’ll soon become the little woman to be pooh-poohed, patronized and wed.”…

But over the past 30 years, these prejudices have largely disappeared. By 1996, intelligence and education had moved up to No. 5 on men’s ranking of desirable qualities in a mate. The desire for a good cook and housekeeper had dropped to 14th place, near the bottom of the 18-point scale. The sociologist Christine B. Whelan reports that by 2008, men’s interest in a woman’s education and intelligence had risen to No. 4, just after mutual attraction, dependable character and emotional stability.

The result has been a historic reversal of what the economist Elaina Rose calls the “success” penalty for educated women. By 2008, the percentage of college-educated white women ages 55 to 59 who had never been married was down to 9 percent, just 3 points higher than their counterparts without college degrees. And among women 35 to 39, there was no longer any difference in the percentage who were married.

African-American women are less likely to marry than white women overall, but educated black women are considerably more likely to marry than their less-educated counterparts. As of 2008, 70 percent of African-American female college graduates had married, compared with 60 percent of high school graduates and just 53 percent of high school dropouts….

ONE of the dire predictions about educated women is true: today, more of them are “marrying down.” Almost 30 percent of wives today have more education than their husbands, while less than 20 percent of husbands have more education than their wives, almost the exact reverse of the percentages in 1970….

Certainly, some guys are still threatened by a woman’s achievements. But scaring these types off might be a good thing. The men most likely to feel emotional and physical distress when their wives have a higher status or income tend to be those who are more invested in their identity as breadwinners than as partners and who define success in materialistic ways. Both these traits are associated with lower marital quality.



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  • JOan Ball

    Hi Stephanie: Do you have the source for the piece you cited? I’d like to read more…

  • scotmcknight

    Joan, click on the link to the piece by Stephanie Coontz and there are sources mentioned there.

  • Marc Mullins

    I wonder how this article specifically speaks to Christianity, it appears to be observations of cultural change over the last century as opposed to an observation that Masculine Christianity has a problem in particular.

  • Dan Jones

    I didn’t read the full article, but based on the above, Ms. Coontz places far too much ‘achievement’ value on education. When more higher education degrees are given and at rates higher than ever before…including post grad degrees…education itself cannot be reasonably or even logically assumed an achievement.

    I would even go so far as to say that the increasing numbers of educated women actually lessens the value of education for all women. Supply and demand in full effect. One need only look at the earnings of graduate and post-graduate degree ‘achievers’ across the various industries and compare 2010 real dollars to 2000 or 1990 or 1960 and see that the achievement of education isn’t that much of an achievement…certainly not compared with earners across industry positions not requiring college education.

    Additionally, self reporting surveys (what men say they want in a mate) is the least predictor of reality and the worst form of ‘scientific’ research. I would instead ask, what is the rate of divorce for married couples where the woman works, works with a college degree, works with a post grad degree, just has a degree and doesn’t work, doesn’t have a degree AND doesn’t work.

    The fact is, men (just like women) say a lot of things, that doesn’t make it true. This fact is even more apparent by men not married being asked by a woman surveyor what they might like in a mate…and even more so if that surveyor is a single, attractive EDUCATED woman. Additionally, one cannot ignore the need of some and desire of many to simply HAVE more…more stuff, more security, more ‘freedom’ (if that’s what you can call it) of which more money and double income is required.

    Lastly, the tables should fairly be turned. What do educated women want in a mate? Do they think ‘marrying down’ is a good thing? And honestly, is there a more insulting phrase. If a man had written that about men marrying women, there would be an outcry of misogyny.

    Do I sound defensive? Yep. Why? Because this is a ridiculous claim. Without a college degree I was making more money than my wife…who is a physician. As a matter of fact, I made more money in my first 8 years of work without a degree than my wife did her first 8 years in practice.

    Now, money does not equal achievement…but neither does getting a college degree in a country where in ’08-’09 alone over 3.2 million degrees were conferred.


  • scotmcknight

    Marc, one connection many are making is that “masculine” Christianity is in part a social reaction to the rise in female power. Power in the USA is connected to education. Hence…

  • Joan Ball

    I see, Scot. I thought Stephanie had written the post. I am doing my PhD dissertation on a related topic. In it, I am interviewing professional women in their early 20s. All have M.B.A.s none are married. They are the first generation of women for whom the ability to work can be taken for granted. All are struggling to figure out how to balance their professional aspirations with their desire for family and learning that developing self-identity is challenging in a culture that has lost its cultural norms.

    Dan (DJ): Thanks for an interesting response. I am married to a man who does not have the level of education I have. There have been times I’ve made more than him and times he’s made more than me. I do not think this has to do with money. I think it has to do with how people (men and women) view responsibilities in the household. If two people in the household are willing to keep the home fires burning while two people are outside pursuing professional endeavors then men, women and children can be happy, productive and fulfill their passions. It is when having to share in traditionally “women’s work” to make things work threatens masculinity (which is, thankfully, not the case with many men) that. I believe, a backlash in the form of constant overstating of the importance of the masculine ensues. Thus the “man-card” and the “man-cave”, etc that were once not viewed as necessary.

    There is another part of your response that points to part of the issue here. You write:

    “I would even go so far as to say that the increasing numbers of educated women actually lessens the value of education for all women.”

    You may be right…and it would be an interesting study. However, it points to the scarcity mentality, i.e.. More education for women must dilute its value. More women in the workforce must dilute the value of men in the workforce. I have to say, I think we need a cultural shift from this view to an abundance mentality. We’ve never needed more smart people (highly educated or not) to innovate. If we could learn to support versus tear each other down I think we will see that we are all the better for it.

  • JohnM

    Who are these educated, high-earning women marrying? Are they marrying “down”? You might guess they’d have to, but the guess might be wrong. Be interesting to see. I wonder what the corresponding statistics are for men, percentage never married by educational level, etc. That’s something you’d have to know to get a more complete picture.

  • JoeyS

    I just got married and am working full time while my wife goes to graduate school to obtain a higher degree than I have. I’m happy for her and resent the notion that she married down because she is pursuing higher education. She, of course, married down for far more reasons than that 😉

  • More tidbits on women & education in this Coontz: Santorum’s Stone Age View of Women article:

    It turns out that the most powerful single influence on a child’s educational success is not the mother’s marital status but her own level of education and her educational aspirations for her children, according to education researcher W. Norton Grubb. Having more education is one of the biggest predictors of women having careers. But it’s also one of the biggest predictors of women (and their husbands) doing more child care, according to a forthcoming paper by Paula England, a New York University sociologist and research fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, and her collaborator, Anjula Srivastava.… …interestingly, the amount of child care a man does is more directly influenced by his wife’s educational level than his own. On average, having a wife with a college degree raises a man’s participation in child care by 3½ hours per week. Educated parents find more time to spend with their children by reducing time dedicated to home-based activities that involve little interaction with children. They spend less time on sleep and personal grooming, less time doing housework and less time watching television than their less-educated counterparts, regardless of their employment status. This is hardly evidence that they do not find child care gratifying.

  • PaulE

    Wouldn’t the effect be the opposite according to the data? It sounds from her research like men are becoming less intimidated by women with education. So then why are they stepping up the rhetoric?

    On the other hand, I had a similar thought to Dan Jones – wondering if a college degree has the same weight of achievement now as it did in 1950. I could be wrong, but I believe 30-some years ago North Park didn’t even have a degree in education because IL schools didn’t require one. Now its pretty common for a teacher to get his/her MA. Yet how has the perception of, say, a third grade teacher changed in that time in terms of achievement? If it hasn’t changed much, then the increase in the number of degrees in fields that didn’t previously require a degree might be hiding a sustained feeling of intimidation in relation to achievement.

  • JohnM

    Scot, #5 – Even after re-reading I still think Marc’s question still stands as valid. I’m missing the connection to which you refer and nothing in the article fills in that gap. Was this your own speculation? Amd what’s with the power obsession anyway?

  • scotmcknight

    JohnM, read the last paragraph… no?

  • scotmcknight

    JohnM, Marc, et al.,

    The big issue is this: many today think the rise of masculine Christianity, and Piper is giving voice to something more widespread, though he’s had a hand to play in it, and it is common to say feminization of culture — evidenced for instance in the rise of women in educational status compared to men — has led to a reaction by some who think masculinity needs renewed emphasis and vigor.

    What Mark Driscoll said recently to males, that they need to be a man and become responsible and provide, etc, is precisely what this article is getting at: women are ahead of men in some of these social movements. Driscoll calls it manhood; I’d call it adulthood, but he’s pointing to the sort of issues at work in this article.

  • DRT

    FWIW, there is more than a quorum of women in executive ranks of american companies that out masculine the men quite handily. I agree with Scot, the desired attribute is adulthood, not masculinity.

  • JohnM

    Scot, when people talk about the feminization of culture I think they mean more than the rise of women in educational status. Hypothetically that bare fact could as easily be taken as evidence of the masculinization of women, if one associates education with masculinity, which I don’t. What some people are reacting to is not the fact but the effect. I can imagine other explanations for the reaction that are just as likley.

  • David Wegener

    We don’t want manhood or womanhood. We want adulthood. We don’t want masculinity or femininity. We want androgyny.

    Is that really what we want? Masculine women and feminine men?

    And if I want masculine men and feminine women, does that just mean that I’m intimidated by educated women?

  • Joan Ball

    #16 David: I think the issue is assuming that femininity and education/influence must be mutually exclusive, i.e. either we have masculine female CEOs or we have feminine CEOs at the peril of “masculine culture”. Back in the day, educated women tended toward “female” fields like teaching and nursing. Still people look askance at male nurses for working in a “woman’s job.” I value my femininity and love when I am around strong, confident, adult men who can handle it without viewing it as either 1) a license to come on to me, 2) an invitation stare at my chest while talking to me or 3) a weakness to be exploited. Unfortunately, there are far too many chronologically adult Beavis and Butthead/Beer Commercial guys out there who are quick to act inappropriately…and quicker to blame the woman’s femininity and the fact that “men are wired” to be unable to control their urges in the face of an attractive, well appointed woman, that many women have chosen to curb their femininity in the workplace and elsewhere in order to be take seriously.

  • Fish

    As the parent of a teenage daughter, I buy into the “girls are the new boys” paradigm: Girls can do everything boys can do, and they’re prettier besides.

    I for one welcome our new female overlords.

  • Joshua

    Paul, the step-up in rhetoric is attributed to, it would appear, a minority of men (many of which are less educated, but some who are not) who feel intimidated by a surge in female assertiveness and competition both academically and in the marketplace.

    The majority of men are not intimidated. So, no, I think her logic stands.

    I’m with Joan above. The issue seems to be more concerned with harmony in marriage and delineation of duties in the household (ie. housework, childcare, etc.) – not about “achievement” per se.

  • Joshua

    David, am I to understand that you believe education to be a masculine quality, and that blurring that makes educated females “androgynous.”

  • Debbie

    Thank you Stephanie and Scot for bringing valid points, worthy of intelligent discussion, into the ongoing dialogue of leadership in the church. This very post demonstrates one of the reasons why I enjoy Jesus Creed so much.