The new trophy wife

This photo provided by Facebook shows Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan at their wedding ceremony in Palo Alto, Calif., Saturday, May 19, 2012.
Allyson Magda Photography,AP Photo/Facebook

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY This past weekend, Facebook (FB) co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg marriedhis college sweetheart. The secret ceremony was staged under the pretense of celebrating Priscilla Chan's graduation from medical school.

If you're under 30 years old, this may seem perfectly normal to you, and it should be. But for those who are a bit older, it's very exciting from a social perspective and in light of women's changing roles. Once upon a time, people spouted the phrase "men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses." The idea was that guys -- particularly high-flying guys -- had no interest in studious sorts of women and, until the last two decades or so, it was kind of true. Women with advanced degrees or high incomes were less likely to marry than their less educated sisters.

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But for younger Gen X women and Gen Y women, this is no longer the case. As sociologist Christine Whelan documented in her 2006 book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" by drawing on Census data, there is no longer any marriage penalty for women who earn degrees, even in fields once regarded as the exclusive domain of men. Indeed, more recent research has found that higher-income women are more likely to marry than women with less earning potential, as has always been the case for men.

There are many reasons for this, but one key one is that young men (and women) have figured out that having a smart and successful spouse can help you in your career. Here's why:

1. Your spouse is a more interesting party guest. Years ago, a gentleman told me that he lived near his clients because it was important to have "the wives" there in the community getting to know each other. Decorum prevented me from pointing out that his company was close to half female, as were his company's clients. Perhaps his wife was networking with his clients' executive husbands in the grocery store, but I doubt it. As the workplace changes, it's important to have a spouse that your colleagues and clients -- of whatever gender -- see as a person they find fascinating and worth speaking with, often as a professional equal.

2. Your spouse expands your network. Zuckerberg is already a very connected guy (look at all his Facebook friends!), but for those of us who aren't already billionaires having a big, broad network helps us advance in our careers. A spouse with his or her own thriving professional network multiplies yours.

3. Your spouse's expertise gives you new perspective. Maybe you ask interview questions that deal with topics your spouse is covering in her articles. Maybe she writes about an issue in a book that she discovered while accompanying you on a business trip. The possibility for synergies are endless.

There is a long history of rich and famous men looking for wives whose major role is to look nice. That Zuckerberg's brilliant and beautiful new wife has got so much more going for her shows how much times are changing -- and that's a wonderful thing.