CNBC.com is not the likeliest forum for a debate about dating. But when the financial news site does broach the topic, it's probably the only place that discusses courtship in terms of "call options" and "unmet arbitrage opportunities."
Here's how it all started. Jennifer Wright at TheGloss.com recently asked CNBC financial reporter John Carney, and nine other "smart men," why so many studies indicate that men prefer dating women who are less intelligent than they are. Carney chalked the phenomenon up to today's "knowledge economy." Less intelligent women have more leisure time because they aren't financially rewarded for staying in school or working long hours, Carney reasoned, and they seek out a smart partner as a means of "economic advancement." As Carney put it, "dumb chicks have both greater opportunities and greater incentives to try harder to date smart men than smart women do."
Carney says a hardworking hedge funder who Wright interviewed provided a similar explanation, asserting that successful men (like him, presumably) date less successful women not because they want "women to be dumb" but rather because they want "someone who prioritizes their life in a way that’s compatible with how you prioritize yours." The hedge funder, for example, dates a kindergarten teacher, and a kindergarten teacher "has a more flexible schedule, she’ll be able accommodate me," he explains. Kindergarten teachers, we imagine, are unlikely to appreciate the implicit connection the hedge funder makes between their profession and an inferior degree of professional success.
"So is this just a Wall Street trope? Or are me and the anonymous hedge fund guy onto something?" Carney asks.
CNBC's Nicole Lapin doesn't think Carney's onto anything. Smart women have the same incentives as less intelligent women to date smart men, she contends: "First, if there is indeed more competition for [smart men] … we all know that we 'Type A' working women love a good fight. Second, smart women don't shut their brains off on the weekend. (Shocker: Smart men don't either.)." To prove her case, Lapin recalls being turned off by a guy on a recent date because he didn't get an allusion to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's "I know it when I see it" ruling on pornography in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964). I mean, c'mon! How do you expect to win the girl without a firm understanding of legal precedent?
Lapin goes on to dismiss the idea that men are interested in less intelligent women: "You guys think you want that, until you're bored to tears and melt her plastic bits. Until you need to take her to a State dinner and she can't smile her way out of it. Until you lose your Wall Street job and she still doesn't understand what you do enough to help you through it, as a partner, an equal, much less stand by a poor guy."
If smart women indeed only want to marry smart men, Carney retorts, and if smart men "are willing to date outside of their IQ cohort," then it follows that smart men are more open-minded than smart women, and that less intelligent men are at a disadvantage when it comes to marriage. Carney speculates why this might be the case, in terms only a Wall Streeter could employ. It gets pretty technical.
In the "knowledge economy," Carney says, intelligent people, unlike less intelligent people, hava a "call option" on their relationships in that they can end them to focus on their careers. In a rational dating world, he continues, smart men discount smart women because of their call options. But smart women don't appear to be discounting smart men in the same way. "Whatever the answer is," Carney concludes, "it is creating an unmet arbitrage opportunity–an overabundance of intelligent, single women and an over-abundance of less intelligent, single men."