According to researchers, it appears the days of women setting their sights on marrying “above themselves” are over, as they become better educated and better paid.
Indeed modern women could hardly be further from the likes of Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet and her scheming to net Mr. Darcy – not just the man she loved but, crucially, a wealthy aristocrat.
Analyzing how female aspirations have changed over the past 50 years the researchers found women in their late twenties and early thirties are increasingly marrying “beneath themselves” by opting for men of lower social classes.
The study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in UK adds weight to the idea that today’s economically independent women are freer to marry for love rather than to further themselves.
The think-tank says the proportion of those “marrying down” – such as the Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter Zara Phillips who is now wed to former England rugby player Mike Tindall – has exceeded those “marrying up” for the first time.
The study found 28% of women born between 1976 and 1981 married men who were less educated and worse paid than them. In 1958, the figure was 23%.
Of the women born between 1976 and 1981, only 16% married up and more than half (56%) married someone of the same class, defined by the IPPR as someone in a similar occupation.
In 1958, 39% married someone of the same class and 38% married up.
The research also showed that while attitudes towards marrying across social class have changed, those towards age have become more entrenched.
Most women marry men who are older than them and are more likely to do so than those of previous generations.
Richard Darlington of the IPPR said: “In the 60s, women working in highly segregated offices in junior clerical roles fell in love with men in senior positions and <<married the boss>>.
“By the 70s and 80s, women had moved into more senior positions themselves and were marrying men in similar professional categories. By the 90s, the toy boy phenomenon was at its height and by the noughties age was no longer a social taboo.
“Women are still marrying older men from the same social class as themselves, but for the first time, the proportion marrying down is higher than the proportion marrying up, and one in five women are now marrying men who are seven or more years older than them.”
Official figures last week showed 52% of women aged 17-30 went into higher education compared with 42% of men.