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For Natasha Hooper, the most important part of pre-date preparation isn’t getting her hair done, waxing her legs or buying a new dress.

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This growing gulf between male and female attainment — the result, many believe, of the feminisation of the education system, with more female teachers, less physical exercise and an emphasis on the arts — is having troubling repercussions when it comes to relationships.

A recent study found more than 90 per cent of predominantly graduate women surveyed were delaying motherhood not to pursue careers, but because they couldn’t find a suitable man.

Most accept it although one, a company director, went on the defensive, saying I thought I was a princess,’ says Natasha.

‘I think he had anger issues.’ British women began to ‘catch up’ with men’s educational attainment levels in the Sixties, when larger numbers entered universities, but only recently have the roles been dramatically reversed, with men falling behind at an alarming rate.‘In the Sixties there was a gendered way of pushing female graduates into jobs such as teaching and nursing,’ says Nichi Hodgson, author of The Curious History Of Dating: From Jane Austen To Tinder.‘And only 20 or 30 years ago a man wanted his female partner to be smart because the assumption was that she would be the primary carer, staying at home to raise their children, who would then absorb her intellect.’But now women are competing with men for the same careers — there are more female junior doctors than male, for example, while nearly two-thirds of practising lawyers in Scotland under 40 are women — their achievements have become more problematic.‘Smart women raise the issue of who would take time off when they have children,’ says Hodgson.

In China, they are called ‘leftover’ women.‘It sounds cold and callous, but in demographic terms it’s true.

There are not enough graduates for them,’ said the study’s author Marcia Inhorn, professor of anthropology at Yale University. Frustrated young women terrified of being left single and childless — and men driven by a sense of inadequacy.‘Men may claim to want educated women, but don’t know how to deal with those they meet and some say they’re intimidated by me,’ says Natasha, who grew up in Birmingham and is single after breaking up with her boyfriend this year.‘I feel I’m hitting a brick wall.’Like many arts degrees, her media and communications course is dominated by female students, and Natasha claims the few male undergraduates ‘lack the intellectual maturity to handle conversations’.‘One cancelled our date four times because he was too busy getting drunk.‘I insisted I wasn’t too clever for him and he agreed to go on a shopping trip together for our first date.‘But it was awful.I think he felt I should lead the conversation, so he barely spoke and I felt too awkward to say anything.’Her longest relationship was with a car mechanic from Burnley last year.And I don’t think men are ready for this.’This is no surprise to Becca Porter, who graduated last year from Manchester University with a joint honours degree in history and sociology, and is now starting a masters in disability studies at Leeds University.‘The sense of achievement I derive from learning seems alien to most men,’ says Becca, 23.‘At school I wasn’t bothered about boys, but I’m at the stage where I’d like to share my life with someone.’With a working-class upbringing — Becca’s mother is an activities co-ordinator and her father an engineer — Becca was not only the first in her family to go to university, but an anomaly among her male peers in Burnley, Lancashire.One can imagine how such a topic could be a little alienating to many men, and Natasha herself admits ‘there’s only so much I can talk about my own interests without sounding patronising.’She says that men often try to change the subject matter back to lads’ nights outs, holidays and sporting hobbies.‘I’ll always listen to be polite, but superficial, self-indulgent conversation is an immediate red flag,’ she says.

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