First Things First: What women are looking for in a mate

A new study conducted by Cornell University published in the Journal of Marriage and Family looked at the steady decline in marriage rates over the past few decades. While other studies blame the decline on gender ratio discrepancies and millennials just not being interested in marriage, this study says the root cause might be that there aren't as many men who are economically stable and therefore are not attractive to women looking for a mate.The study notes that ethnic minorities, especially African-American women, are dealing with very low numbers of economically attractive potential mates.

Researchers found that attractive potential husbands had an average income approximately 58% higher than the current unmarried men.

"Most American women hope to marry but current shortages of marriageable men - men with a stable job and a good income - make this increasingly difficult, especially in the current gig economy of unstable, low-paying service jobs," said lead author Daniel T. Lichter, Ph.D., of Cornell University in the media release. "Marriage is still based on love, but it also is fundamentally an economic transaction. Many young men today have little to bring to the marriage bargain, especially as young women's educational levels on average now exceed their male suitors'."

This is not the first study that shows this finding. In fact, another study also published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in 2016 from the University of British Columbia found that women have made greater gains in education than men during the past few decades in the U.S. Among newlywed couples, the percentage of couples in which the husband had more education than the wife declined from 24 percent in 1980 to 15 percent in 2008-2012, whereas the share of couples in which the wife had more education than the husband increased from 22 percent to 29 percent during the same period. In other words, if two spouses differed in their level of education, in 1980 the husband was more likely to have more education, but from 2008 to 2012, the wife was more likely to be the more-educated spouse.

Less than a decade ago, Stanford psychology professor Philip Zimbardo and Kay Hymowitz, fellow at the Manhattan Institute, were raising concerns about what is happening to boys. They each made comments similar to "pre-adult men often seem like children, filling their leisure time with video games, Adam Sandler movies, indie bands, beer pong and the company of inebriated women."

photo Julie Baumgardner

Along with them, others were raising voices of concern, stating these statistics back in 2011:

* Boys are 30% more likely to drop out or flunk out of school than girls.

* Girls now outperform guys at every level from elementary to graduate school.

* Two-thirds of all students in special education are boys.

* Boys are five times more likely to be labeled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

* By the time boys are 21, they have played more than 10,000 video games, mostly in isolation.

* The average boy watches 50 porn clips a week.

Zimbardo noted that one of the most interesting things he was seeing in his research is what he refers to as the "social intensity syndrome" where guys prefer the asynchronistic internet world over the spontaneous interaction in social relationships.

There are many studies showing boys continue to lag behind girls. Additional studies show that the gap is widening as women continue to make educational and financial gains and are seeking to marry men who are also educated and financially secure. Both of these studies published in the Journal of Marriage and Family indicate that women want to marry but can't find a partner they consider to at least be their educational and financial equal.

None of this means that a woman (or a man) should marry for money instead of love. Or that they should believe that who makes the money or how much each person makes won't impact their relationship. There is plenty of research indicating that money is a factor in marital stability and is often the source of much stress in marriage. In many marriages, expectations around money go unspoken, which isn't helpful to the relationship. It is important for couples to be on the same page when it comes to money, education and expectations.

Instead, the key question for us is, "Why are boys lagging behind?" What can we do about it? What will we do about it? We will continue to fail our boys and our girls if we sit back and do nothing, but the results of that would seemingly be disastrous for men, women and children.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at