Career women are refusing to 'marry down' despite struggling to find the right man

Career women are refusing to 'marry down' despite struggling to find the right man Photo | Photosearch

What you need to know:

  • More women are graduating from college and landing dream jobs, but there's a downside: there may not be enough eligible men to go around.
  • Is it time high-flying women reduced their must-haves? 

On May 25, 2021, Peter Omwaka asked his girlfriend to accompany him to Karen, Nairobi, where he was scheduled to sign a deal. Unknown to his girlfriend, Omwaka had secretly organised a surprise birthday party for her. They arrived in the afternoon. Red roses were intricately scattered on the path that led to a small room where a white cake was placed. On each side of the path were mowed lawns sitting quietly like two distinguished guests in the auspicious show of love. Omwaka's girlfriend could not help getting emotional as she walked along, with a saxophone mellowing behind her. "Happy Birthday!" Omwaka said as he ushered her into the room. As she turned to cut the cake, Omwaka went down on one knee and pulled an exquisite red ring-box from his pocket. At that very moment, Omwaka popped the one-million-dollar question. "Esther, will you marry me?" The saxophone blew; the red roses fluttered. Love was in the air. "Yes, I will!" she said, tears rolling down.

Within minutes, Omwaka's proposal spread on social media like wildfire. "This is love! Love is a beautiful thing!" Many people congratulated the two love birds. This was not just an ordinary proposal. It was a proposal from a man who for a long time has been criticised for dating an older, richer woman. You see, Omwaka who is popularly known as Guardian Angel is 19 years younger than his fiancée Musila. He is 32, she is 51. 

Money difference

The mother of three has more money than Guardian Angel who is an upcoming gospel musician. Her children are aged 29, 26, and 23. Her firstborn is only three years younger than Guardian. "I was not looking for love when I met Guardian. I was not looking to be in a relationship. I can only say it is God," Musila said after the proposal. She admitted that she had concerns about their differences and what people would say. "He told me, 'Why would you care? It's about you and me. We are in this relationship, the two of us; it's not about other people,'" she said. As a self-made alpha female, Musila has managed to do what many women in her shoes are struggling with or flatly refusing to do. 

Not too many women want to marry down or get into hypogamous relationships—the act of marrying someone of a lower social and economic class than your own. According to the research paper Mismatches in the Marriage Market, the modern, ambitious career woman is unwilling to marry down even though she is struggling to find men with matching earning power, intelligence, and academic qualifications. 

Career women are refusing to 'marry down' despite struggling to find the right man Photo | Photosearch

The qualities a career women want in their ideal man are not widely available. This has created a gap in the marriage market. In the US for instance, the research shows that unmarried women are on average looking for a man who has an income that is about 66 per cent higher than theirs. These women also want men who have a college degree. This is compounded by the high number of women who are earning bachelor's and Masters's degrees in contrast to men. A total of 55 per cent of women are enrolling for higher academic programmes in comparison to 43 per cent of men. 

Research findings

The paper that is the research work of sociology researchers at Cornell University and Brigham University also shows that this new phenomenon may be here to stay. This is largely because women are outpacing men in the race for higher academic qualifications. Globally, it is estimated that every year, more women than men are becoming college-educated, with the median sex ratio being higher for women in colleges and universities. A 2019 research study by Belgium's Ghent University on women looking for love on the dating app, Tinder, found out that women now prefer highly educated men, even though this pool of men is not adequate.

This has given birth to the term sapiosexuality. As sapiosexuals, high-flying women are sexually attracted to highly intelligent people, so much so that they consider it to be the most important trait in a partner.

In Kenya, data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics also show that in some sectors such as education, there are more women employees than men. In this sector, more women are also going for undergraduate, master's, and Ph.D. degrees which are boosting their chances of upgrading to higher job groups with better salaries. Interestingly, the number of women in high salary cadres is also rising. 

By 2018, a study by Brighter Monday showed that Kenyan men only occupy a slightly greater percentage of the higher salary brackets, with 55 per cent of men earning Sh251,000 and above and 45 per cent of women earning the same amount and above. This rise of the modern career woman is also being embraced by corporate employers. In 2019, Safaricom became the first listed company in Kenya to achieve a 50 per cent share of female employees on its payroll.

The damsel in distress dream

The desire for alpha women to date or marry men who are doing as well or better than them is not so far-fetched. Girls have grown with the old Cinderella narrative where the damsel in distress gets saved by the prince. 

According to Dr. Chris Hart, a psychologist and the author of Single & Searching, there are practical considerations that a well-paid career woman must consider if she wants compatibility and longevity in her marriage. You must be in the same phase of your life. You must be thinking the same way, interested in the same things, and with the same outlook in life. It might appear easy for a successful career woman to get herself a date, especially in an age where some men have no qualms playing toy boy.

Ironically, whereas the high-earning career woman is incredibly desirable, her dating life will tend to be messy. "Powerful, smart, and ambitious women have very high expectations, and that is the main reason why their relationships fail," says Dr. Hart. An alpha female relationship with a man down on the food chain has higher odds of failing because the man may be intimidated by her big career or salary. The problems will start to pile when she grows disappointed in her man. "Once she loses respect for her partner, intimacy slowly fades away because desire is based on respect and admiration. Women need to be able to admire their partner for their relationships to stay successful and passionate," says Dr. Hart.

Millicent Ngari, who is a 30-year-old banker in Nakuru says that she would find it hard to respect a man who earns less than her or who is less educated. "I leave home at around 6.30 am to avoid morning traffic jams and get to my workstation a few minutes to 8 am. Over the weekends I am at the university pursuing my Masters. I cannot then imagine a man who is earning less than me lazing around on the couch at home as he waits for me to return home and prepare a meal, or wash," she says. 

The man with new money

According to sociologist Johnstone Miriti, some career women also fear men who are newly rich and label them as arrogant, condescending, and stingy. This was the experience of Trizah Chebet. 

Two years ago, Chebet got into a relationship with Allan. On the surface, Allan was every woman's dream mate. "He had an inspirational story. He had risen from the slums to the position of a Chief Finance Officer," says Chebet, who earns a six-figure salary as a director at an NGO in Nairobi. Chebet gave Allan a chance even though she had never dated someone from a poor background before. "I quickly realised how arrogant and condescending he was. He would throw words such as 'Your family is rich and can get you a richer husband! You can't go to a government hospital because you're used to expensive private hospitals! Your rich family doesn't need my dowry!'" she says. In February 2020, she terminated the relationship. 

According to Miriti, the marriage market could also be skewed against career women with men who earn less or who hold less academic qualifications preferring to marry down themselves. This implies that men like Allan are more comfortable marrying women who earn less. "This category of men wants to dominate their mates. They target and choose women they can conquer, women who will be at their beck and call. The high earning career woman doesn't fit their bill," he says. 

This is echoed by sociologist Dennis Malanda. He says that most men feel uneasy when dating a successful woman because of the social expectation and pressure to be providers. "Even though the financial, job and economic dynamics are changing rapidly, the traditional male mindset prevails," he says. Many men would rather be the top earners. 

"I would not be very comfortable dating or marrying a six-figure-earning woman while I'm shouting myself hoarse for passengers at the Ambassador Bus Terminal," says Matthew Otieno, a 36-year-old bus conductor at the Ambassador area in Nairobi. 

Mathew says that in such a relationship, there would always be power fights over who should provide and what each partner's money should do. "My friends would mock me. My manhood would be demeaned. I am better off dating and marrying a mama mboga in Kawangware," he says.

Most men who date successful, rich career women are forced to constantly defend their intentions. Over the last year, Guardian has had to refute claims that he is with Musila for her money. "I don't care what Esther has. If I was after her money, she could have dumped me already," he has often said. 

"Money is not everything. As a man, all I want is peace." 

Money is not everything

Who could also forget the uproar caused by Kenyan women's rights campaigner Wambui Otieno, who in 2003, married her second husband, Peter Mbugua, who was 42 years her junior and way poorer? Despite the criticism, the couple went on to have a successful relationship until Wambui passing away. 

Yes, experts say, some of these relationships do survive. Take the relationship between Jean-Pierre Meyers and Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers. Ms. Bettencourt-Meyers is currently the richest woman in the world. As of June 2021, Forbes estimated her net worth to be around USD91.9 billion. Her husband is nowhere near this amount of wealth. He is the managing director of Tethys SAS, a community-based business insights company. Their relationship and marriage has lasted for 37 years. In March 2021, MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of the world's richest man Jeff Bezos, found love and married a teacher known as Dan Jewett. As of June 2021, Ms. Scott was worth an estimated USD 57.4 billion. 

While most women say it would be good if a man earns more, some are willing to overlook finances in favour of companionship. 

"There are other factors that are essential for marriage," says Nancy Adhiambo, 38. 

"I would not reject a proposal from a man who earns less, if he is good at managing money, investing, and multiplying wealth," she says. 

Although money and career may be a top priority for some women, nearly all women want a well-groomed man. Poor hygiene can be a deal-breaker regardless of the weight of a man's wallet or his academic papers. 

"He can be wealthy but filthy," says Janet Waithera. Three years ago, Janet was in a relationship with a financially well-off man whom she ended up breaking up with due to his poor hygiene. 

"He had a fleet of matatus and was in the lucrative large-scale wheat farming business in Narok," says Janet, 32. But then there was this bad smell that hovered around him. "Today it would be stinky socks, tomorrow sweaty unshaved armpits, and the day after recycled shirts," she says. "He also had these long nails on his pinkie fingers which literally pissed me off." 

Whenever Janet prodded him, he would always tell her that he didn't have the time. "He'd say he was too busy chasing money. He would claim 'mwanaume ni kajasho.' How can you be so busy making money that you hardly have the time to take a shower? I just couldn't stand it and ended up rejecting his marriage proposal," she says.

Feedback to the editor: [email protected]