In my previous post, I reviewed the methods and results of a series of studies that have been in the media lately. The authors claim to have shown that when men are scarce, single women – especially the unattractive ones – lose confidence in their ability to land a man and therefore pursue careers instead.

In this post, I’ll tell you what the authors said about their own research, then point to a few ways that the results have been represented in the media. I’ll end with a link to my own critique.

What Did the Authors Say About their Results?

Here are a few quotes from the discussion section of the journal article, where authors summarize and interpret their results:

  •  “When men are scarce, women who are lower in mate value (i.e., less able to attract a desirable mate) are more motivated to shift their career motivations and pursue their own financial resources…[this] not only enables women to support themselves but it also hedges against the possibility of not being able to ever secure an investing mate.” [cue the scary music]
  • “…climbing up the economic ladder…may lead more women to end up childless, end up in undesirable relationships, or become single parents.”

The latter statement is the sort of pronouncement you might expect to find in the materials from extremist, ideologically-driven matrimaniacal associations and think-tanks. Instead, it appeared in a first-rate academic journal in my field.

What Rush Limbaugh – and USA Today – Said About the Results

Rush Limbaugh loved this research. He claimed that it showed that he was right all along when he proclaimed his “Undeniable Truths of Life, #24”: “Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of American life.

Well, that’s just Rush Limbaugh. What about something more mainstream, such as the copies of USA Today that are slipped under hotel room doors from coast to coast? That paper simply summarized the results of the study, with comments only from one of the authors. There was no critique, no questioning.

In this way, a mainstream high-circulation newspaper and a prestigious academic journal feed the singles-bashing belief that single women in high-powered careers are pursuing their consolation prize, since their first choice – a husband – was out of their reach. Moreover, those successful career women are the ugly ones.

Fortunately, not everyone in the media has been willing to swallow the findings without chewing. Maureen Henderson at Forbes, for example, and Dave McGinn at the Globe and Mail, have taken bites and spit them out.

So What’s the Problem?

You can read my detailed critique here.

Working mom photo available from Shutterstock.