March 18, 2019

KAMBHAMPATY | Can You Still Get an MRS Degree Today?

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Is it still possible, in this day and age, to obtain an MRS degree?

For those who aren’t familiar, MRS degree is a term used to describe a woman who pursues a college education with the intention of finding a spouse. It was commonly used in the ’50s and ’60s when higher education was beginning to open up to women but still remained relatively inaccessible. For men, attending a university was a way to pursue an education and cultivate skills. For women, it was a way to get closer to these bright-futured men. Women would take college courses to become refined and cultured and would often not graduate after finding a spouse along the way.

Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, until 1969, was called the College of Home Economics. It was seen as “a critical pathway into higher education for American women, largely associated with co-educational land grant institutions such as Cornell.” Course offerings included home sewing, the Farmers’ Wives Reading Course and a famous marriage course. “Home Economics stands for the ideal home life for today unhampered by the traditions of the past [and] the utilization of all the resources of modern science to improve home life,” said Ellen Swallow Richards, founder of the Home Economics Movement.

“The average girl wants to be able to keep her house with the least possible strain, and in order to do this she must have good training. This can best be achieved by taking a good course in home economics,” said Eleanor Roosevelt, who played an early role in the establishment of Cornell’s home economics program and was a national advocate for the study of home economics. Home economics programs eventually received reputations of confining women to the kitchen but were formed originally under the mission of getting women into college and improving the condition of women in America.

As Home Economics turned into Human Ecology and as women came to college to pursue their passions, are people, not just women, still trying to find significant others here? Is it even possible to?

Before approaching this subject, I asked friends and people around campus if they thought it was still possible to get an MRS — or MR — degree today. Of the dozens of times I posed this question to a Cornellian, I got the same exact answer: “What’s an MRS degree?”

Upon greater reflection, I realized I had only heard the phrase twice before. Once during AP U.S. History and once during rush, when an Alpha Phi sister said to me, “I came to Cornell to get my MRS degree,” followed by a feeble laugh, after telling me about the generations of her family members that met here. The term’s disappearance from our vernacular indicates a number of things. Most evidently, it indicates women are attending college to further themselves rather than follow a path paved for them by gender norms and overall forward movement in women’s rights. But it also makes me wonder, do men and women come to college with any hopes of finding their lifelong partner?

In 2018, the median age for marriage was nearly 30 for men and 28 for women. In 1960, it was closer to 23 for men and 20 for women, with an overall upward trend in age since. People aren’t getting married right out of college. If we aren’t marrying our college loves, then what is the utilitarian function of a college relationship?

The standard economic model suggests that individuals interact socially if there is something to gain; usually, this would be information, an increase in utility or an improvement in reputation. I bugged my friends a bit more and asked why they were dating their current partners if they probably weren’t going to marry them. The immediate payoffs of a college relationship are pretty much what you’d expect — discovery, enjoyment, comfort and memory. The prevalence of Bumble and Tinder among college students is another indicator of some desire for companionship, even if only in the short-term.

Though the answers I received felt honest and wholesome, I can’t help but wonder if there is some capitalist monster of the past engrained inside of us that’s driving our desire to date with the hopes of an eventual long-term relationship rather than just a simple longing for companionship.

In a New Yorker interview, Esther Perel, psychotherapist and author of Mating in Captivity discusses how the couple has never before been such a central unit in our social organization. For the first time in history, a couple’s emotional state is crucial to the survival of the family unit. On top of looking for someone we are attracted to, someone to help us build a financially stable future, someone who can be our friend, we are also asking for this other person to be our soulmate. “We have gone up the Maslow ladder of needs, and now we are bringing our need for self-actualization to the marriage. We keep wanting more. We are asking from one person what once an entire village used to provide,” argues Perel. She goes on to say we’re not cynical about finding this one, all-encompassing person either.

At the peak popularity of home economics programs and an MRS degree, people were asking for less out of a significant other. At best, people were looking for financial stability or someone who could take care of their home. Today, as Perel points out, we are looking for much more. The gradual extinction of home economics programs could very well be related to the modern trend of the everyday love-seeker wanting more out of a relationship than just some sort of stability. Maybe people still meet their partners in college and marry later, but I can’t help but think our greater ambitions for education and marriage might be the reason we aren’t marrying our college loves right away. We just want and feel like we deserve more.

Anna P. Kambhampaty is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. This Imagined Life runs every other Monday this semester.