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Wedding-Bell Blues

Princeton’s Battle of the Brides

A roundup of the best reactions to Susan Patton’s infamous letter.

A Princeton alumna and mother of two Princeton sons stirred up controversy last week in a letter to the prestigious school’s newspaper, encouraging young women to marry their classmates while they still can:

Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated. It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty. Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again—you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.

At The Cut, Maureen O’Connor (a Princeton alumna herself) expressed disgust:

As for Patton's elitist assumption that finding an "intellectual equal" outside of an Ivy League campus is next to impossible? Ugh. I'm not even going to unpack that one, but it's worth noting that this embarrassing window into how Ivy Leaguers talk to each other should be as cringe-inducing to modern audiences as Patton's take on gender relations is.

Amanda Marcotte at XX Factor chalked it up to a mother completely out of touch with her own son’s dating habits:

Patton's sons deserve the benefit of the doubt here: They're probably not Ross Douthat types, turned off by these modern women with their birth-control pills. They probably did not instigate conversations about how their female classmates are too busy studying and partying to get serious about finding someone to marry. If I know anything about meddlesome older people, I'd guess that the description of Princeton women as unhurried on the subject of romantic commitment was proffered to end a series of tiresome questions about when parents can expect to see serious girlfriends brought around.

At Jezebel, Katie J.M. Baker pointed out the complications of sexual violence at the Ivy League institution:

[I]t's an even odder choice given the paper's recent scoop on an unpublished study that found one in six female Princeton undergraduates said they experienced "non-consensual vaginal penetration" during their time at the University. Point being: one is not necessarily an eligible mate just because he got into Princeton. Patton could've saved herself a lot of time and energy by simply writing "Fuck my youngest son while you have the chance!"

Catherine Rempell broke down the economic implications of these assortative matches at Economix:

One unintended consequence of more likes marrying likes is higher income inequality; the rich and educated marry the fellow rich and educated and get richer together, while the poor and uneducated generally don’t get married at all, remaining poor and alone.

A paper published last year in the Journal of Political Economy actually tried to quantify the trade-off that husbands make between beauty and brains when choosing a mate. Using longitudinal survey data on married American couples, it found that women can compensate for two additional units of body mass index with one more year of education. In other words, it’s all right for women to be a little heavier if they’re also a little more educated, or a little less educated if they’re also a little skinnier.

Male physical attractiveness matters, too. But for men, the stronger trade-off seemed to be between weight and wages: Men may compensate 1.3 additional units of B.M.I. with a 1 percent increase in wages.

Evelyn Chao interviewed Patton herself for The Daily Beast, correcting some misconceptions about the mom:

First, she isn’t a WASP. (“It was intended as advice from a nice Jewish mother. That’s all it was.”)

Second, she isn’t exclusively a homemaker. Patton has run her own HR consulting and executive coaching business in New York City for 20 years. She didn’t work the first five years after her first son, now class of 2010, was born, but has ever since.

And third, she isn’t married to a Princeton grad. In fact, she’s just out of what she calls a “horrible” divorce, after 27 years of marriage. “My husband’s academic background was not as luxurious as mine, and that was a source of some stress,” said Patton. “I think he felt a certain level of resentment.”

And Megan McArdle took Patton’s side, arguing that we’ve unfairly stigmatized early marriage:

I say this as someone who married late, and since I wouldn't want to have married anyone except my husband, I'm glad I waited. But as a general rule, you should err on the side of marrying early. By which I mean not that you should marry whoever happens to be around when you turn 22, but that you should be willing to recognize, at the age of 22, that you've found someone you want to marry. Right now, most Princeton students don't think that way. They think there's something weird about committing at 22. And if they try to commit, their friends and parents will warn them off.

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