I married up.
While I am impatient for the traffic light to change, the summer to arrive, and the bottle to drop from the soda machine, my husband is the most patient person I know. While I am cynical and sarcastic, my husband is the epitome of kindness. While I have to stop, literally, to figure out my left from my right, my husband could move a mountain aided only by a pulley and a lever. He can build a house, play the guitar, repair a car, win at golf, change the dog's bandage, cook up a storm, arrange flowers, sing on key, sketch a design, and operate a backhoe. I can read books and talk about them. Write a little. And run long distances, very slowly.
So when a report like this one comes out, expressing doubt that even in these modern times most young women will "marry down," I don't know whether to snicker or snort.
For one thing, the number of women earning a college degree has been surpassing that of men since 1996, and a report based on the most recent Census shows that women now outnumber men in obtaining graduate degrees too. Statistically speaking, then, the pool of men with equal or greater education than any particular woman is shrinking and has been for some time.
Compound this fact with that of the decreasing presence of mature, single men in the church, and the situation looks even starker for single Christian women who are old enough to have earned advanced degrees and want to marry a Christian man. If the experiences of my single female friends are any indicator, satisfying that requirement alone is difficult enough, even before considering equality in education and income.
There has been some variation, but surprisingly little, in the age-old tradition of hypergamy, the tendency of women to "marry up" on the socioeconomic ladder. According to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center, in 1970, 20 percent of wives had more education than their husbands; by 2007 that number rose to 28 percent. In terms of income, these years saw a more significant change: in 1970 only 4 percent of wives earned a higher income than their husbands, but by 2007 that figure rose to 22 percent. Despite some slight shifting, clearly, hypergamy remains the cultural norm.
Oddly enough, however, when I look at the small circle of my closest and oldest Christian friends, I realize that nearly all of us have higher degrees than our husbands. One such friend is a lawyer and mother of four; her husband is an art curator with only a bachelor's degree. Another friend is finishing her third degree and is on her way to her fourth, a doctorate; her husband of 20-plus years has his GED. For years these two struggled to play the gender roles they thought Christian duty required. He bounced from job to job to eke out a living while she homeschooled their four children, until finally financial straits forced her to return to full-time work as a teacher. When this turn of events freed her husband to pursue his musical vocation as a part-time worship leader and to be a full-time Mr. Mom (another category shown by the recent Census report to be on the rise), they finally experienced the marital and financial stability that had eluded them. Now they are extending that stability and their family by becoming adoptive parents of a sibling group.
As for me and my husband, we had no idea when we married that I would change my major to English, be accepted into a Ph.D. program with only my bachelor's degree (owing more to economic and market conditions than my own merit), and embark upon an arduous academic path into which we both invested much blood, sweat, and tears. When we married, I had a year of college under my belt while my husband had been a self-employed musician since high school, having grown up in circumstances that put college out of reach. I now consider my Ph.D. to be earned by both of us, for I never could have—or would have—done it without my husband's support. He deserves more than I do the modestly higher income I bring home compared with what he earns as a public school teacher (a job he was able to get, incidentally, once my university appointment allowed him to return to school).
I wonder if my husband and I would have succeeded on this path if not for the conservative, independent Baptist pastor who married us and discipled us early in our marriage. The pastor believed firmly in the biblical teaching that the husband is the head of the marriage. Yet he also taught, contrary to some ministries, that if the husband, in his biblical role as head, determines that his wife's gifts and calling make her the more suitable breadwinner of the family, then it is simply a matter of responsible stewardship for her to be just that.
Let the world define "marrying up" or "marrying down" according to such criteria as education and income. But let those of us who are in Christ be equally yoked in things of eternal consequence.