Entry from April 12, 2012

One of the lasting effects of feminist efforts to raise the status of “independent,” working women over the last forty years has been the thinly veiled contempt of the likes of Hilary Rosen of the Democratic National Committee for stay-at-home mothers like Ann Romney who, said Ms Rosen (you may have heard about it if you listen to talk radio), has “never worked a day in her life.” That is of course absurd, but Mrs Romney was only doing what most women of her age and older did by assuming that marriage meant her job was to be what they used to call a “housewife” — a term doubtless banned now and known to the politically correct only as the h-word. Yet this was the natural pattern of things not so very long ago, during the era of what the anthropologists call female hypergamy. This was the tendency, presumed to be the result of evolutionary forces, of women to “marry up” — that is, in biological terms, to seek a higher-status male to mate with in order to give her genes the best chance of being passed on.

Another of the long-term effects of feminism has been the decline of female hypergamy, as the ever-greater numbers of higher-status females have to choose mates from the ever-smaller numbers of higher status males. This was a subject which came up when I took part in a panel discussion yesterday in Washington D.C., along with Danielle Crittenden and Kim Gandy to discuss a new book by Elizabeth Kantor titled The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After (Regnery) It was moderated by Sabrina Schaeffer of the Independent Women’s Forum which sponsored it, and sixty or seventy people turned out on a Wednesday afternoon to hear Elizabeth explain what Jane Austen knew about romantic relationships and we have (mostly) forgotten. Jane Austen as self-help guru. It had to happen.

During the discussion, I thought that the difficulty of college educated and professional women have these days in finding suitable husbands was rather different from anything the women of Jane Austen’s day had to cope with, but maybe I’m mistaken about that. Today’s Daily Telegraph of London has an article by Allison Pearson which also makes the link between Jane Austen and hypergamy. Citing a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research of women born between 1958 and 1981, she notes that, “of females born in 1958, 38 per cent ‘married up.’ Of those born between 1976 and 1981, only 16 per cent married someone of higher social status.”

Today, women are just as likely to be hypogamous — choosing a partner of lower social status, just because they fancy the pants off him. Of course, it’s also likely that, by delaying marriage till her late thirties, the working woman has missed out on a catch and has had to settle for Stuart Small-Fry with a salary and a sperm count in double figures. If they were alive in 2012, do you think the Bennet sisters’ main ambition would still be bagging an invitation to Mr Bingley’s ball? Hell, no, they would be far too busy. Jane Bennet would have joined a management consultancy firm straight from St Andrew’s and is commuting twice weekly to Frankfurt. Jane’s husband from uni, Charlie Bingley, stays at home to look after their two small children in Pimlico. (Secretly, Charlie yearns for an old-fashioned wife like his mother.) Bookish Mary Bennet is completing her PhD in Egyptology and is seeing a divorced father of three who lives on a barge. Kitty, after a starter marriage to a confused bisexual, is having a simply shagtastic time working as an air hostess. Lydia Bennet was profiled recently in a tabloid as a “troubled teen” who lives in a two-million quid house with her “feckless” father and “shrieking” mother. Despite an expensive private education, Lydia ran off with the local crack dealer and got nicked for driving a getaway car during the riots last summer. Bail was posted by an anonymous friend of her sister Elizabeth. Poor matchmaking Mrs Bennet is tearing her hair out. Five daughters almost past their sell-by date, only two grandchildren between them, and not a single advantageous match! As for Mary and that barge fellow. Why oh why are young ladies of good family always taking pity on scruffs with a dog on a rope?

In the end, she prefers to look on the bright side — which is that the end of hypergamy means no more than that “women are quite capable of achieving social status all by themselves” — as she imagines Elizabeth Bennett’s doing — and so can please themselves as to whom they marry. But nobody seems to be concerned about the effect of all this on men. I think Jane Austen would be worried.

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