Jane Austen could be a savage satirist and snarky cynic, constantly critiquing the economics of marriage and marriageability in Regency England. But after two centuries, a new study may have upended the premise of her whole literary canon. According to researchers at the University of Kansas, men are now more likely to "marry up." Congrats, ladies — you are Messrs. Darcy, Knightley, and Tilney.
Sociologists analyzed census data from 1990 and 2000 and the 2009–2011 American Community Survey to see how gender affected education and how each affected earnings during the "prime working years," between ages 35 and 44. They also layered in data about marriage, to determine return on earnings in married households. The researchers found that more American women are highly educated than men, which led to standards of living for American men increasing once they married those women.
That also means, in some cases, that standards of living can decrease for women married to men. Lower-income women especially may not be able to make up the difference between their own greater earnings and the smaller household contributions their husbands earn. (The research does not seem to have examined same-sex households.) "When we consider family dynamics," said lead study author ChangHwan Kim, "men are getting the benefit from women's progress."
That said, there are reasons not to get gloomy about women being the family breadwinner, not least of which is celebrating women's well-being and earning power. It's possible this new economic dynamic could help improve other inconsistencies within heterosexual marriages, such as gaps in labor such as housecleaning and parenting. The best solution for all of the above: clear, consistent, and open communication.
The advice blogger Captain Awkward has a number of great posts about keeping boundaries clear and maintaining workable divisions of labor. "813: Labor and Leisure" is specifically about how to negotiate money and duties when one partner is out of work. (Captain Awkward is also one of the very few corners of the internet where it's worth reading the comments for further ideas and conversation.) One imagines that Austenian couples would simply have the servants take care of things, but that's why they're fun novels and you, ladies, are boss.