Dear young South African women, I am sorry to be the bearer of the bad news. But it appears that for women, the more education you achieve the less likely you are to find a partner to date or marry.
This is by no means a South African phenomenon. In the USA there are studies about African American women with higher degrees who routinely find it difficult to land a date let alone a husband among black men.
So many stay single and others marry white men. And there you thought education was an unadulterated good thing. The future looks even bleaker for smart women with degrees.My colleagues Van Broekhuizen and Spaull at Stellenbosch University (SU) call this “The Martha Effect” in a paper subtitled the compounding female advantage in South African higher education. It turns out that in academic studies, women continue to do better than men over time. Before, the literature used to speak about “The Matthew Effect” referring to the continued advantage of boys in reading; no more.
The SU research shows that 27% more women qualified for university entrance, 34% more actually enrolled, 56% more completed any undergraduate qualification and 66% more obtain a Bachelors’ degree.
No doubt this means that over the next decade or more women in general would hold higher qualifications and earn more money than their male counterparts. When one disaggregates academic attainment by race and gender, African and Coloured men are way are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to obtaining first degrees. It is in this group that dating and marriage become particularly challenging.
“We are like a repellant,” an attractive women graduate working at a top investment company told me earlier this week. As I surveyed accomplished women this past week one after the other told the same story. The men are intimidated. They are socialized into being in charge – socially, intellectually and financially –-like their fathers and the men before them.
A woman with confidence backed up with major shares from her company and a pending promotion to senior partner is a threat to
many South African men
It is the woman partner who used to get put down at those stuffy cocktail events or dinner with colleagues – so what do you do? An answer like I’m just an ordinary housewife meant the questioner simply moved on to someone more interesting. But the woman in question is married.
It is not simply that this new generation of women have better qualifications and earn more money than their men. It is that they have voice. They now make major decisions in the home with the partner. They exhibit confidence. In healthy households women share responsibilities for decision-making on everything from investment choices to the family holiday. But those kinds of relationships are rare. A woman with confidence backed up with major shares from her company and a pending promotion to senior partner is a threat to many South African men. How many men who are machinists in a manufacturing company are completely comfortable with a spouse who is a chartered accountant or advocate of the high court?
Those relationships seldom exist, and that is the point: for middle-class, educated women the choices of partners with similar educational achievements or aspirations are more and more limited.
Now of course there are couples for whom this disease is not true and same-sex couples would not experience the pains of patriarchy in the same way. Nor is marriage and dating the sum total of lifestyle choices available to women (or men) in a fast-changing world.
But for the vast majority of women who seek compatibility in their partners – socially, culturally and intellectually - the options are narrowing. Nothing of course wrong with the women; everything wrong with a society that produces and reproduces particular ideas about male roles in relation to women, and about what counts as a fulfilling life - marriage.
What of the future? Will women in time marry trophy husbands? Will a new generation of men settle into the idea that they could be house husbands working from or maintaining the home? And does it mean that in this transition from the romantic notions of male/female partnerships to one of greater equality in relationships, that there will be a period of male retaliation against this collapse of the old order?
Regardless, the world is changing before our very eyes and we can do much to repair and restore healthy relationships among men and women.
For starters we must increase the retention and success of especially boys in schools and universities, for its own sake. And we must consciously help boys and young men to unlearn these destructive habits of masculinity not only in schools but through role-modelling how to be human even in the troubled world of the South African man.