If he knows what's good for him, the modern gentleman will prefer brains, not blondes, according to a study of marriage.
In what may be interpreted as a victory for feminism and a sign that men now stand even less chance of winning an argument with their wives, researchers have discovered that marriages today have the best prospects of survival when partners have the same level of education.
The generation of husbands who married in the early 1990s, the researchers found, was also the first to be happy with wives who were as smart or smarter than them.
This, the study confirmed, was a reversal of the 1950s, when Marilyn Monroe starred in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and when a marriage was most likely to last when a husband was better educated than his wife (and could presumably flatter him by saying that he knew best).
After her team analysed the fortunes of thousands of American couples who had married from the 1950s to 2004, Professor Christine Schwartz, of the University of Wisconsin, said they had discovered "trends towards a more egalitarian model of marriage in which women's status is less threatening to men's gender identity".
Her findings suggest a seismic shift from the 1950s, where the man was traditionally the breadwinner, and the wife was expected, as one home economics textbook of the era advised, to "have dinner ready for him on time [and] offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice".
Despite the feminism of the 60s and 70s, the preference for a less educated wife (or the fear of a cleverer one) appears to have endured until at least 1980. Between 1950-1979, marriages where a woman was better educated than her husband were 34 per cent more likely to end in divorce than unions where the husband could (perhaps quietly) claim to be cleverer than his wife.
The researchers found husbands and wives with the same levels of education were more likely to stay together than those where the husband was better educated than his wife. They also found substantial but not conclusive suggestions that marriages where the wife is better educated than the husband may now actually be more stable than unions where the man could convince himself that he was the cleverer.
The study concludes: "Our results speak against the fears that women's growing educational advantage has had more negative effects on marital stability."