(CNN) -- After earning her Ph.D. in political science, Yazmine Watts, 33, is proud to be called doctor. Her voice gushes when she shares her experiences globe-trotting on prestigious grants.
Now, she performs intelligence work for the government, a job that carries a salary twice as much as her husband's, a warehouse worker.
There is a saying that love conquers all, and for Watts that means Laurent Sagna's salary and job status are inconsequential. She said she adores her 39-year-old blue-collar partner -- who only completed high school -- for the way he listens, for his affectionate hugs and musical talents. Watts ignored her mother's concerns about his "financial prospects" when they married a few years ago.
"I've met and dated plenty of people with Ph.D.s, and it doesn't mean they are smarter," said Watts, who lives in North Carolina. "He might not have the degree, but he's got a lot of talent."
Academic and workplace strides among women are outpacing those of men in the United States and the gains are affecting who educated women marry, sociologists say. Studies find women are marrying men with less education. The income balance is shifting in American households.
If dating is a numbers game, then single ladies should consider this: A Pew Research Center report this year noted a surge in women between the ages of 30 and 44 making more money than their husbands. Women made more money than men in 22 percent of married couples surveyed in 2007, compared with 4 percent in 1970. While men make more money overall and hold more management positions, women are making greater gains
"The supply of men has changed," said D'Vera Cohn, senior writer at the Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends project. "The pool of college educated men isn't growing as rapidly as it is for women."
There is also a gender shift in the realm of education. Women represent nearly 60 percent of students holding advanced degrees in areas such as medicine, law, business and graduate programs, the U.S. Census reported in April.
Researchers have found educational attainment to be a higher priority among couples than ever. Popular online dating sites Match.com and eHarmony reported that romances happen occasionally between educated, professional women and men who are less educated or have a lower salary. But there remains a stigma on men who make less. Some professional women say they are reluctant to "marry down."
But Leah MacIsaac-Ruff, a 45-year-old who works 11-hour-plus-days as a technology vice president at a Wall Street firm, doesn't view it that way. She has a college degree. So does her husband, Doug, 43, who walks dogs for a living.
MacIsaac-Ruff may be the breadwinner, but she finds her husband's career choice refreshing.
"If I were to marry a type-A personality and we sat on our computers side by side in the evenings, I think I'd die," she says. "I think I'd be in a cold relationship. The last thing I want is to go home to an investment banker."
Despite their job disparities, the couple share enjoyment of the opera and theatre. When they attend her upscale corporate events, she isn't embarrassed when people ask about her husband's profession. Instead, people are intrigued by his dog-walking job.
"It doesn't bother me one bit that she makes more money," said her husband one morning as he was gearing up to walk 15 dogs. "I couldn't be more proud of what she's done in the business world."
The recession has shaken some traditional gender expectations, said several marriage and family experts. About 4.7 million jobs were lost among men during the recession, according to April figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Two million women lost their jobs, the report said, leaving more women to become sole supporters of their families.
Gone are the days of the "Cinderella complex," a term coined decades ago to describe women who unconsciously waited for a rich man to sweep them off their feet. Particularly among the millennial generation, people are less likely to have gripes with a woman who earns more and has more education, said Nicole Johnson, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Professional Women. Her organization represents 150,000 women, with a majority working in a white-collar profession.
"At one point, the stereotype was a man might feel inferior to a woman who is at a higher point in her career than he is," Johnson said. "I think that's dissipated a bit, where there aren't these built-in expectations of who should be above."
Educated, professional women exposed to men working lower-paying jobs growing up are more likely to date them, said Amadu Jacky Kaba, a sociology professor at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. "When they see a hard-working garbage collector or different kinds of lower-level jobs, then they trust them," Kaba said.
This was the case for Daniella Abruzzo, 40, of New York, who grew up in an Italian-American household. She was the first to attend college in her family. She became a creative director at Hearst Corporation, one of the nation's largest media companies. She is married to a 43-year-old plumber, who, she jokes, comes in handy around the house.
Her husband, Greg, has a GED, while she's completed an undergraduate and a master's degree. When it comes to money and job status, she said there is a "fine line between where it matters."
"The idea that I make more money than him, it makes him uneasy and feel like I won't need him," Abruzzo said. "I know he likes to feel like he is supporting his family."
Robin Coates, 45, of Mobile, Alabama, found starting a relationship with her boyfriend, Sam, a 39-year-old who installs floors, to be tricky. Coates works as a creative director and has a college degree. She, too, makes more money than her boyfriend, who dropped out of school in the eighth grade.
"Many years ago he said, 'I'm not the guy for you. You need to be dating a guy with a suit and tie,' " she said.
Coates said they have dated for eight years and plan to get married soon.
Dating a man who makes less money or isn't as educated can be difficult, said Whitney Casey, a dating expert at Match.com, the online dating site for singles. She said the differences can work if the couple has similar goals and values.
"There are benefits, too," she said. "It can open your world and make you become a better-rounded person."
But most educated women prefer to secure a partner on the same educational level -- or higher. A woman with a master's degree may marry someone without an advanced degree, but he will likely have a bachelor's degree, said Christine B. Whelan, author of the book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women." Since the couple is the same social class, the educational differences matter less.
The Pew Research Center's data also reported educated women are more likely to wed than uneducated women. But that's not the case among educated black women, where relationships between wealthier, educated women and men who work lower-paying jobs are far more common, said Cheryl Judice, a Northwestern University sociologist. A U.S. Census survey conducted in 2009 estimates 700,000 more black women had a college degree than did black men.
Watts, who has a graduate degree and good salary, is one of these women.
She said she had trouble trying to take her husband, a warehouse worker, to a graduate studies conference. She asked him to come once. He refused, she thinks, out of embarrassment. Still, she is happy in her marriage, and boasts that her husband can play six different instruments.
He will try to go back to college when they save enough money at her new job.
"He's laid back, mild-mannered and giving," Watts said. "Don't you want to see people for who they are?"