The scent of spin

Always take a closer look at those who bend standard definitions:

Social critics like Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, the author of “Why There Are No Good Men Left” (2003), and Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the author of “Creating a Life” (2002), worry that this trend is especially problematic for young achievement-oriented women. The conventional wisdom holds that if women excel in higher education and spend their 20s investing in their careers, men will be intimidated by their accomplishments, women will find it hard to meet a suitable mate, and marriage and childbirth will be unattainable.

“Nowadays, the rule of thumb seems to be that the more successful a woman, the less likely it is she will find a husband or bear a child,” writes Ms. Hewlett, arguing that high-achieving women who were still single at age 30 have a less than 10% chance of ever marrying.

In fact, the opposite is true. Marriage rates are increasing among college-educated men and women, even if the marriage age is older: According to the 2006 Current Population Survey data, among 35- to 39-year-old women, 88% with advanced degrees have married, compared with 81% of women without college degrees. And once married, these smart, successful women are no less likely to have children.

I haven’t been able to find the data yet, but one thing that I’ve noticed in all of these much-cited statements about educated women and marriage is that they always conflate “college-educated” with “advanced degrees”. But a college education – a bachelor’s degree – is never described as an “advanced degree”. That’s a masters or a doctoral degree, and it’s the women who hold those that are the high flyers of whom I, and others, have written so critically.

By way of demonstration, note that the U.S. Census Bureau specifically differentiates between bachelor’s degrees and advanced degrees: “New information from the U.S. Census Bureau reinforces the value of a college education: workers 18 and over with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of $51,206 a year, while those with a high school diploma earn $27,915. Workers with an advanced degree make an average of $74,602, and those without a high school diploma average $18,734.”

Now, it’s possible that the author of the Opinion Journal piece is playing it straight, but I’m suspicious. Why not break the marriage statistics down into the four groups as was done for the income group? Wouldn’t that be more informative? The most likely explanation is that she didn’t because it would show that the most-educated group features lower marriage rate than at least one of the less educated groups, thereby disproving her thesis.