Princeton Mom on Marriage: Facing the Facts

Susan Patton’s words sound like they might have the ring of truth.  When the Princeton Mom tells college age women in her new book, Marry Smart, that “College is the best place to look for your mate,” heads nod.  When she says, “Once you graduate you will meet men who are your intellectual equal—just not that many of them,” it almost sounds as if what she is saying might still be true.  But that ringing is the sound of the past.


Disagreements with Patton’s arguments abound, but the most salient rebuttal is that many of her contentions are based on outdated facts and are no longer accurate. She acknowledges that her book is advice and not a study as says, “There are very few statistics in this book, and my research has been limited to talking with people I know, like and trust…”

Yet, there is a very real reason to set the record straight.  Her points, if taken to heart, send young women a message that they should relegate their hard work, in the classroom and the workplace, to the back seat and instead focus on catching a man in college, lest they risk becoming “a spinster with cats”.  Yet 91% of college educated women (and men) marry, suggesting that the vast majority of those wishing to wed find a partner.

1. “If you associate too closely with a man who is significantly below your intellectual level, you will eventually get stupid juice all over you.”

This is, I suppose, an inelegant way of saying that women should seek out men of similar intelligence or education.  By and large women do marry men of similar education as roughly 80% of college educated women marry men who have the same level of education or more.

2. “Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated..” “Here’s what nobody is telling you . . . find a husband on campus before you graduate.”

The implication of this inaccurate stereotyping is that educated men find women of similar age and education less attractive marriage prospects.

Historically a smaller percentage of college educated women got married than women without a college degree. That, however, is history and over two decades ago this pattern shifted. Education does not interfere with a woman chance of getting married, in fact the pattern has reversed and in recent years a woman with one or more degrees is more likely to be married than a woman without a university degree.

Fully seventy-eight percent, of men with a bachelor’s degrees married women who also held a college degree.  Despite Patton’s assertion, it is a very small minority of college educated men (roughly 6%) who marry women who have not gone beyond their high school diploma. Educated men, it seems are not scared off by women similarly trained, but rather view them as wives.

Throwing the “old maid” card into the argument, is yet another red herring. Men on average marry women two years younger, not much younger two years younger.  The average age for a first marriage across the country has risen to 27 for women and 29 for men.  While this is just an average, contrary to Patton’s claim, women of 30 do not have to fear having passed their “sell by” date and college age men may be fully a decade away from marriage.

 3. “There is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are, you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”

Worthy?  Well worthy is very much a personal opinion, each woman is surely looking for something very much her own, so let’s look at “concentration”.  The premise of Patton’s argument is that appropriate college educated spouses are in abundance on college campuses but after graduation, they all but disappear.  Where do these men go?  To graduate and professional programs and to the workplace, right alongside their female classmates.

The world is a different place because of social media.  With social media women now will never lose contact with anyone they have ever known including all the men they met in college. After graduation their circle of friends, and friends of friends, will only expand online and in real life to include a much larger pool than simply their college classmates.

Later in the book Patton exhorts women to consider the geekiest guys on campus who later will become some of the most successful. When surveying men and women on the reason for marriage “financial stability” ranks a distant fifth behind love, companionship, lifelong commitment and having a family. We are a nation who marries for love.

4. “You can recover lost time on the job — but not in your children’s lives.” “When your children are launched, the workforce will still be there for you to reenter”

Patton is absolutely right that we can never turn back the clock on our children’s lives, but working parents are very much present for their children.  Highly educated women can forfeit a substantial amount of their lifetime earnings by staying home for as little as 18 months.  As a stay at home mom who has publicly expressed some of her regrets at foregoing career opportunities, the loss, I can say, extends far beyond ones bank account.

5. “[U]ntil you find a spouse, I would advise you invest your effort and energy at least 75 percent in searching for a partner and 25 percent in professional development.”

If at a minimum we were to assume a woman worked 40 hours a week, this would require her to spend 120 hours a week searching for a husband.  Only eight hours would remain in each week to sleep, eat, and perform any other life-sustaining functions.

6. “You’re in your twenties, you’re no longer a student, and you are hoping to find a husband in a nonacademic setting. Good luck! You’ll need it.”

In her parting shot, the Princeton Mom throws fear into the mix.  Look early for that husband or there will be slim pickings.  But the picture painted by the National Bureau of Economic Research  is very different one “College educated women marry later, have fewer children, are less likely to view marriage as “financial security”, are happier in their marriages and with their family life, and are not only the least likely to divorce, but have had the biggest decrease in divorce since the 1970s compared to women without a college degree. In contrast, there have been fewer changes in marital patterns by education for men. “

Marriage has entered a new age, driven in part by the higher levels of education for women.  But when we look at the facts, it soon becomes clear that college educated women are doing just fine and don’t need anyone’s advice.




  1. says

    Excellent rebuttal, Lisa! This Susan Patton sounds like a complete @hole. :) Imagine, getting this totally useless and FALSE message out there. I mean, what was she thinking? What was the publisher thinking? (Probably that this sensational kind of BS will sell.) What a shame!

  2. says

    This is so intelligently put. Thank you for getting it out there. I just hope it gets as much exposure as the original (flawed) piece.

  3. Melinda says

    Is this tripe still being peddled to young women?!

    I would tell women in college, to take their time, maybe even (gasp), not marry until later – on purpose! How does a 19, 20, 21 year old really know who will make a good life long partner? And why actually marry them? Is this the 50’s, the 80’s? No! Marriage is not a requirement for happiness. Live together. While there may be a great mix of the possible partners in college, and biologically the desire to pair off is high, other dilemmas then present.

    So many questions. Consider seriously whether keeping your (father’s?) last name is better for you in maintaining your separate identity as a person, than taking on your husband-to-be’s last name. Where do you move — the city he gets a job in, then you look for work there? Or to the city you get a job in — will he move for your job? How will this be decided? What do you actually want in a partner? And surely we don’t believe that our “intellectual equals” are only found in college, let alone, our specific college?

    The premise is flawed in so many ways, it makes me wonder at the age of the writer? Why should society still send the message to young women that they must marry, and quickly? Remember the adage: “Marry in haste, repent in leisure.” Not all old advice is outdated.

  4. says

    Bravo, Lisa, and I am glad you are also on Forbes. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment, and I’m thrilled you wrote about it. Her assertions are not only incorrect but are also quite insulting.

  5. says

    Wow, this Princeton mom is just nutso. Do you think it’s just a joke? I can’t really imagine anyone really thinking like this. It seems so far fetched to think that anyone would truly tell their daughters this. I agree with you!

  6. says

    Bravo! This post should accompany any review of the Princeton mom’s book.