Brad Wilcox’s Wife

Brad Wilcox is an amusing situation where he’s trying to promote a new book he wrote about marriage right after Melissa Kearney released a basically identical book and exhausted all of the media attention available for such things.

One of his book-promotion strategies appears to be picking on me every so often on Twitter, which he did again today. These attacks generally either accuse me of being a “marriage critic” that has the same views as the far-right manosphere or of being some kind of hypocrite because I am married to someone I met in high school. For some reason — is it jealousy? — social conservatives frequently seem perturbed by the latter.

One sees this all the time in the public policy arena. People’s Policy Project founder Matt Bruenig is just one example. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma for undergrad and Boston College for law school, Bruenig married his high school sweetheart and has two children with her. 

But when asked about his general opinion on marriage, Bruenig said, “We live in a pluralistic society. Let a thousand flowers bloom on different approaches to life.”

— Conn Caroll, Washington Examiner

The view that I am guilty of espousing is that some marriages and relationships are good while others are bad and that the “pro-marriage” writings of people like Kearney and Wilcox are dumb because they don’t take this banal observation very seriously.

Relationships go bad (or fail to form) for a number of reasons including that one or the other relationship partner is just a bad or difficult person to be with or because there is some kind of incompatibility between otherwise good people. Again, this is not a groundbreaking point, but the idea that there is a distribution of relationship quality where one of the tails is home to net-negative outcomes is key for understanding how marriage or long-term partnering can be good in general while not being good in every specific case.

Wilcox and Kearney seem to think it is fun to take this observation and convert it into the point that elites like Matt Bruenig are saying that working/lower class men are unmarriageable. Interestingly, even though my points on this are gender-neutral, it’s always that I am saying the men, not the women, are unmarriageable. This seems to be because these writers basically believe that picky women are to blame for everything, but I am not totally sure.

Mostly I think this critique is just a bad-faith effort to turn what is essentially a campaign of scolding lower class people into a populist campaign against “the elites.” Wilcox actually puts that feint in his book’s title: “Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization.” Caroll does the same thing by describing reservations about unqualified marital promotion as a “luxury belief.” Douthat, Kearney, and others generally make this point by saying upper class people get married in higher numbers while having more socially liberal views about marriage and therefore do not “preach what they practice.”

It is my response to this particular bit of rhetoric that seems to get contorted into saying that I somehow think working class people are unmarriageable. But that is not what I have said nor what I believe. Instead, what I have said is that upper class people, broadly defined, do not simply get married. Rather, they get married to other upper class people. People like Wilcox, Kearney, and Douthat do not, in fact, marry the kinds of people they are imploring others to marry! The elites, in general, have made it very clear that they personally do not find these individuals to be marriageable.

When Kearney was doing this bit a few months ago, I looked to see whether she in fact married a lower class person. It turned out she met her husband, whose dad was the chief investment officer of Aetna, at Princeton University and then married him right as he got admitted to Yale law school.

What about Brad? Did he marry a lower class woman perhaps? No, of course not.

Brad is married to Danielle Wilcox who has a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and a Master’s degree from Columbia University. She’s the chief development officer of the National Council on Teacher Quality. Danielle’s bio says that Brad and her met in her fourth year at UVA.

So both Wilcox and Kearney are married to Ivy League graduates that they met in college. I suppose only they know whether they were specifically screening for an elite spouse, but clearly this is something elites do in general, and it is quite obviously because they don’t find less elite people to be marriageable, not to them at least.

My own story of marrying someone I met in high school is somewhat more intriguing perhaps (certainly it intrigues the social conservatives who can’t stop talking about it). But despite its unusual beginnings, it is not actually an unusual pairing in the final analysis.

Liz is a Marshall Scholar with a Master’s degree from Cambridge and a two-time Pultizer finalist. I am a National Merit Scholar with a law degree from Boston University (to help burnish my elite credentials further, I’ll say here that I was admitted to Northwestern, Georgetown, University of Texas, and Cornell law schools but selected BU because of a scholarship offer). It’s weird and kind of cool in some respects that we met in high school — me from a lower class family, her from a middle class family — but we became and married as educated elites.

What’s curious about the Wilcox and Kearney stuff is that, precisely because they did not luck into marrying someone they met in high school, they almost certainly had prior relationships that did not work out. Presumably they do not regret passing over those relationships and believe that it would not have been good to marry those individuals. Is this because they are anti-marriage? Or is it because they acknowledge that some relationships are good and others are bad?