Lifestyles Left and Right

The 27 Percent Solution

Swiss researchers find the key to marital bliss.

By 3.11.10

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The other morning at breakfast I happened to be thumbing through my copy of the European Journal of Operational Research, when I came across a fascinating study titled "Optimizing the marriage market: An application of the linear assignment model." While it may have been the application of the linear assignment model that lured me in, it was the optimization of the marriage market that had me hooked.

Inside, Swiss researchers report the discovery of a magic formula for successful marriages. If true, this could mean that marriages of the future will be contracted based on scientific principles, instead of such common, but notoriously unreliable factors as failed prophylactics and tequila.

The study begins by echoing what many of us have known all along: that a successful marriage has little to do with passion, sexual prowess, your partner's good looks, or the make and model of his car. It has to do with smarts.

According to these well meaning, but obviously over-funded scientists, the key to a happy marriage -- if you are a man -- is to find a woman who is 27 percent smarter than you are. If you are a woman, you need to find a man 27 percent dumber.

It's that simple.

Well, it is, and it isn't. For instance, it is not hard for me to find a woman who is 27 percent smarter than me. The hard part is getting her to go out on a second date.

The researchers also suggest the woman should have a college degree and the man shouldn't. This was very bad news for me as I have two college degrees. The good news is that my degrees are in English and journalism, so, obviously, they don't count.

This report will doubtless prove hard for some men to stomach. After all, we men prefer to suffer under the illusion that we are in every way superior to our spouse. Sure, all of the latest research tells us that, with regard to IQ, men and women are in a statistical dead heat, but who besides underpaid journalists reads the latest research? This illusion is understandable when you take into account that women tend to underplay their intelligence while men overstate theirs. This is what researchers call the male hubris and female humility effect, and everyone else calls the Ego. Thomas Hobbes, in his Leviathan, backs me up on this:

Such is the nature of man that howsoever they may acknowledge many other to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned, yet they will hardly believe there may be many so wise as themselves.

No doubt this is why men used to lock up astronomers who dared suggest the earth revolved round the sun, because, that meant, by extension, that "I" am not the center of the universe.

LUCKILY FOR ME my girlfriend is at least 27 percent smarter than me. And I don't base this just on the fact that she scored higher on her ACT. I base it on day-to-day observation. I may pay for our dinner date, but she does the real hard work: figuring up the tip. And as for getting to the restaurant, if it were left up to my navigational skills, we would drive around in circles until we ran out of gas and were forced to resort to cannibalism.

I suppose this finding, like everything else, has an evolutionary explanation. Perhaps the smart cave girl went for the dim-witted, but brawny guy with the big club because he was more likely to bring home the bacon, or the mastodon, or what have you.

It's just that today brawn alone doesn't cut it. A few gals may appreciate it when their man brings home a 14-point buck -- though not if he tracks it on the carpet -- but more and more women think they want a guy who is their intellectual equal, so they can sit down after dinner and have a nice intelligent conversation about the last episode of American Idol or what jerks her coworkers are. This, however, would be folly. As the European Journal of Operational Research clearly says, you want a guy who has a hard time following what you are saying, (and not just one who wouldn't care if he could).

There are those who believe these new guidelines will usher in a golden era in men-women relationships: Divorce rates will plummet. Marital bliss will reign. No more broken homes.

Personally, I don't believe there is a magic formula for a happy marriage. I think it is simply a matter of hard work, adjustment and compromise, with equal parts common decency and politeness. Best of all, these are things we are all capable of -- whatever our IQ.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.