Dr. Peggy Drexler
Updated February 20, 2014

A new report out of the Pew Research Center has confirmed what most wives likely already knew: Women are smarter than their husbands.

Well, sort of. Released last week, a Pew analysis of Census data revealed that, for the first time in 50 years, wives are more likely to have more education than their husbands; more likely, that is, to “marry down” (educationally-speaking, at least). Among married women in 2012, 21 percent had spouses who were less educated than they were–a threefold increase from 1960. And the numbers are even higher among newlyweds: In 2012, 27 percent of newlywed women married a spouse whose education level was lower than theirs, but only 15 percent of men could say the same. Nearly 40 percent of college-educated women, meanwhile, married a guy without a college degree. The numbers for college-educated men marrying women without a degree? 26 percent.

Though the difference is not huge–21 percent of women might be more educated than their husbands, but the percentage of husbands that are more educated than their wives is close behind at 20 percent–it’s clear that women are no longer waiting for their prince to arrive. Nor are they putting the prince before the profession. Most couples, in fact, are made up of partners with equal levels of education (and, in fact, an earlier Pew report found that college graduates are increasingly more likely to marry one another). That’s a good thing.

But here’s the rub: Though women are increasingly more educated, that doesn’t mean they’re earning more of the money. According to Pew, only 39 percent of newlywed women who married a spouse with less education out-earned their husband. A majority–58 percent–made less than their husband.

While it’d be nice to think that what’s happening here is a passing of gender expectations, it’s more likely simply a numbers game. Plainly put, more women are graduating college than men. What’s more, while marriage rates among those adults with high school or less education has decreased–from 72 percent in 1960 to 46 percent in 2012–marriage among college graduates has risen steadily, increasing the odds that a woman will marry a man with less education than she has. Another possible explanation: Men are getting choosier–preferring to partner up with a mate who challenges them intellectually–while women are becoming less so. It’s something to think about, at least.

But let’s get back to the money. What’s the point of better-educated women who still earn less than the men in their lives? Plenty, in fact. Educating women is good for the economy. Research from Goldman Sachs has found that investments in female education, and narrowing the gender gap in employment, can boost per capita income by contributing to the quality, size, and productivity of the workforce.

More, though, is the fact that if the trend in women seeking higher levels of education continues to rise, the wage gap between men and women will continue to decrease–and especially if women continue to marry less educated and, ultimately, lower earning males. So don’t think of it as marrying down. Think of it, rather, as investing in your future.

Featured image via ShutterStock