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Smart Men Are Open-Minded, Smart Women Aren't

Thursday, 3 Mar 2011 | 1:39 PM ET

Why does intelligence appear to enhance a man’s dating and marriage prospects while diminishing a woman’s prospects?

It’s an explosive question for a number of reasons. First, we’re not really meant to notice these kind of gender imbalances—unless we’re lodging a grievance against “discrimination.” Second, at its heart it is about, well, matters of the heart—always a sensitive topic and one that many people cringe at exploring intellectually. Third, it’s about sex—something a lot of people are understandably uncomfortable talking about in public.

The ladies at TheGloss.com brought the subject up in a recent survey asking ten different men why so many smart men date “dumb girls.” I was one of the respondents. Now Nicole Lapin, my colleague here at CNBC, has tried to explain why smart women want to date smart men.

Notice the disconnect? TheGloss wanted to know why smart men were dating less intelligent women, while Lapin wrote about why smart women date smart men. There’s obviously a missing category here: men on the left hand side of the intelligence bell-curve.

The disconnect doesn’t just emerge from Lapin’s preferences—it’s inherent in the data. In most of the western world, sex-ratios run about even. As many women as men are born, and just about as many survive into adulthood. If people were confined to dating and marrying within their IQ range, there would have to be about an equal balance between the outcomes of men and women across the IQ bell curve.

Of course, we’re not confined in that way—which explains why the imbalance is possible. Intelligent men are able to increase their chances of marriage because they are willing to date outside of their IQ cohort. Intelligent women, it appears, are either unwilling to date and marry outside of their IQ cohort or are unable to do so.

This has real implications for both women and men on the left hand side of the curve. Less intelligent women have more opportunities to marry because of their ability to attract higher IQ men and the willingness of both sexes to allow for this intelligence gap in relationships. Less intelligent men have less opportunities to marry, either because intelligent women are unwilling to “marry down” or because the men don’t want to “marry up.”

So the real question we are addressing is: why does this discrepancy exist?

The economic organization of our society—which increasing rewards intelligence—is a significant factor. The creation of a “knowledge-based economy” means that those who are more intelligent have an advantage over those who are not. Increasingly, our society makes it difficult to even earn a decent living if your skills and experiences aren’t especially brainy.

Intelligent people have a “call option” on their relationships. They can exit a dating relationship or a marriage in favor of concentrating on their careers. They do not necessarily need another person in their lives in order to climb the socio-economic ladder.

Of course, this call option is not free. A rational dater will discount the value of a potential mate based on the value of the option. When it comes to men dating women, this means that intelligent women need to be discounted for their inherent call option. Less intelligent women—for whom the economy provides less opportunity—don’t have the call option built in and so they don’t need to be discounted.

Why doesn’t this work the other way around—discounting intelligent men for their own “call option” and therefore benefiting less intelligent men? The answer must either be that less intelligent men are unwilling to date more intelligent women or more intelligent women are unwilling to date less intelligent men. Or both.

Whatever the answer is, it is creating an unmet arbitrage opportunity—an overabundance of intelligent, single women and an over-abundance of less intelligent, single men.

This is evidence that what men and women look for in a mate diverges. Women apparently value intelligence in a mate—or perhaps the socio-economic rewards for intelligence—more than men do. When it comes to intelligence, women are more discriminating, men are less. Of course, this just leads to the question of why this divergence should exist.

I suspect this discrimination is just a reflection of the fact that women are more discriminating about sex altogether. Research consistently shows that men have a greater and far less discriminating appetite for sex than women do.

To put it differently: when a publication like TheGloss asks “why smart men date dumb women,” it is asking the wrong question. It should be asking why smart women refuse to reciprocate.

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