What do all these ‘economically unattractive men’ tell us about marriage?

Arwa Mahdawi
Photograph: Getty/iStockphoto

I hope you feminists are happy! You’ve finally gone and done it. You’ve throttled the supply of high-earning husbands, and now there are severe mismatches in the marriage market. Yes, I regret to report that a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family (there truly is a journal for everything) has found that unmarried American women “face overall shortages of economically attractive partners”. Women are looking for husbands with an income 58% higher than those of the available men.

Hang on, I thought marriage was about love, not combined incomes? Sure, says Daniel Lichter, a Cornell professor and the study’s lead author, “but it also is fundamentally an economic transaction”. And, Lichter says, “Many young men today have little to bring to the marriage bargain, especially as young women’s educational levels …now exceed their male suitors.”

Why do so many men have such poor prospects? There are various theories including, Lichter notes, the “gig economy of unstable, low-paying service jobs”. But you know what’s easier than blaming the economy? Blaming women! The fact women are struggling to find suitable husbands has caused glee in conservative circles. US shock-jock Rush Limbaugh says this story shows feminism has come back to bite women “in the butt”. “They’re earning money, but they still have the same attitude about marriage,” he crowed.

I hate to say this, but Limbaugh does have a very tiny point. I’m struck by how many empowered women regress to the 1950s when it comes to marriage. They fight for equality at work, but still have traditional expectations when it comes to men proposing with expensive diamond rings. And the idea that marrying a rich dude is something one should aspire to is still very much entrenched in society. The rise of “economically unattractive” men isn’t just bad news for guys – it reflects poorly on us all.