I’m over at CBS MoneyWatch this week blogging about the new wedding of the year, the Mark Zuckerberg-Priscilla Chan nuptials out in Palo Alto this past weekend. The wedding was cool for many reasons. One of them, as Helaine Olen pointed out in her Forbes blog, is that these billionaires didn’t spend like billionaires. Rather than ratcheting up the wedding industrial complex, they toned it down.
But I also think that the marriage says a lot about how society is changing. Once upon a time, people spouted the phrase “men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” The idea was that being smart and studious was a net liability for a woman. High-flying men wouldn’t be interested in women with advanced degrees or degrees from too-prestigious places. But the modern billionaire is marrying a woman with a Harvard undergraduate degree and their friends came to their wedding under the pretense of celebrating her graduation from medical school. Though I don’t think Chan is taking Zuckerberg’s name, I smile every time I see the phrase “Mr. and Dr. So and So.”
There are, perhaps, some inefficiencies in marriages that involve two people who have careers they actually care about. But on the whole, I think having a smart and successful spouse is a net asset in one’s own professional life — even if you’re an ambitious man in an old school industry. As I mention in my CBS MoneyWatch blog, a gentleman once told me he lived near his clients because it was important to have “the wives” networking in the community — an idea that Megan Bashman talks about in her 2008 book, Beside Every Successful Man (which, from my review, you can probably see is the book that irked me most that I’ve read in the past 4 years). But these days, many of those clients are female, which means that “the wives” scheming together in the grocery store is just no longer a viable concept. A successful, smart spouse is a more interesting party guest. She/he broadens your professional network. And she/he likely has expertise that can complement your own. That’s hard to develop if his or her whole purpose in life is just to support your career.
Zuckerberg and Chan have been together a long time, and during much of that, it was pretty clear that Facebook would deliver astonishing riches to its young founder. But with that in the background, Chan went to medical school, which is not known for being a walk in the park. That’s the modern trophy wife — beautiful (of course), but also brilliant, and willing to invest a great deal of time in building her own career. The modern, ambitious young man doesn’t believe he needs a wife fully dedicated to advancing him. He wants a wife with her own life — and I think that’s absolutely grand.