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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 61/August 1902/Marriage Among Eminent Men

MARRIAGE AMONG EMINENT MEN.
BY Professor EDWARD L. THORNDIKE,

TEACHERS COLLEGE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY.

THE failure of the human race to reproduce at the top has been the cause of frequent complaints by students of society. The necessity of improving the human species by perpetuating desirable strains and restricting the increase of defectives, delinquents and dependents has impressed every thoughtful observer of human affairs and led him to wonder to what extent various classes of men share in producing the next generation. The reply has commonly been the cheerless dogma that the top strata of society are constantly dying out, that gifted men and women marry much less and later and have fewer children than the thoughtless multitude.

I have tested two of these claims in the case of the eminent men of our own country. The results have more than a curious interest. The well-known 'Who's Who in America' contains the names of about 10,000 men. Some of these are grotesquely out of place and many eminent men are missing from the list. But if we select 1,000 or more, we have a body of men representative surely of the top hundredth if not of the top five hundredth of men of their age. Their attitude toward marriage will give an idea of the attitude of men who have shown superiority over at least 99 per cent, of their fellow men.

The facts cannot be stated with absolute precision since a large percentage of them do not make any report at all concerning their conjugal condition. In an investigation of a number of these cases it was found that three fourths were married. Applying this fact to the whole group we obtain the following figures:

Of 286 eminent men, between 60 and 70 years old, 88 per cent, are married.

Of 347 eminent men, between 50 and 60 years old, 88 per cent, are married.
Of 342 eminent men, between 40 and 50 years old, 88 per cent, are married.
Of 243 eminent men, between 30 and 40 years old, 85 per cent, are married.

Comparing these percentages with similar ones for the whole male population, we have

 
Eminent men. Whole population.
60-70 yrs. 88 93
50-60 yrs. 88 92
40-50 yrs. 88 89
30-40 yrs. 85 79 (about 85 for ages exactly corresponding to those of eminent men)

There is thus little or no avoidance of marriage peculiar to gifted men. The contrary belief seems one of the numerous scientific superstitions.

If we examine their age at marriage, we may justify the claim that gifted men marry not only almost as commonly, but also as early as the rank and file. Of those who have reached the age of forty-four and married before forty-five, 22.2 per cent, married before the age of 25, 43.3 per cent, between 25 and 30, 18.7 per cent, between 30 and 35 and 15.8 per cent, between 35 and 45. The corresponding figures for the general male population of the United States are 22.7, 41.0, 23.1 and 13.1.

Obviously the gifted men marry at almost the same ages as the multitude. Even the slight differences observable might vanish if the statistics were freed from the tendency to report the date of a second rather than a first marriage.

The facts concerning the marriages of gifted men in America seem to disprove another common dogma—that the age at marriage has been rapidly increasing in the case of professional men because of the increasing amount of preparation required for success in professional life under present conditions. If we take all the gifted men born before 1865, who have married before 35, and compute the average age at marriage of those born before 1820, from '20 to '30, from '30 to '40, etc., we find that the age of marriage for gifted men has probably advanced less than six months in a half century. This is a liberal estimate and is surely not alarming. I find no means of ascertaining the change in the marriage age of the general male population during the same period, but there is no evidence that professional men differ from authors, artists or men in business.

These facts witness to the fundamental conservatism of human nature. The casual observer is impressed by the appearance of changes—of revolutions and reformations in human ways; he fancies that some force in the environment is making or marring our customs. But the inborn make-up of men is always a factor and one that remains unaltered through many half centuries.