Christine Whelan headshot

Christine B. Whelan

Director of Money, Relationships and Equality Initiative, Clinical Professor
Consumer Science
Office 4220
Not for school but for life we learn.


This quote from Seneca is my high school’s motto, and I use it in the first lecture for most of my classes. I’m a firm believer that academic research can and should be useful to all of us in our day-to-day lives. My favorite classes are ones chock full of fodder for cocktail party conversation: cool ideas and new perspectives; fun facts and counter-intuitive approaches; knowledge that will hopefully germinate into food for thought for years to come.

At UW–Madison, I teach classes on what it means to live “the good life,” especially through the lens of choices about money, relationships, and personal improvement. Learn more about my three classes—”Consuming Happiness,” “EcoYou: Belonging, Purpose, and the Ecology of Human Happiness,” and “Finance and Families”—under the “Teaching” tab below. I also direct the Money, Relationship and Equality Initiative, described below.

Stop by to chat about how my latest book, The Big Picture: A Guide to Finding Your Purpose in Life, may help you frame that important question of what’s next in college and beyond. Watch my TEDx talk, “Authentic Purpose: A Roadmap,” for a further amplification of that thinking. Or visit me online at to learn more.


BA (magna cum laude), Politics, Princeton University
MA, PhD, Economics and Social History, University of Oxford

Recent press

Starting 2021 with a purpose, Channel 3000 News, December 30, 2020
Will the COVID-19 pandemic result in a baby boom? Experts weigh in, Today, April 24, 2020
Finding purpose during a pandemic, Psych Congress, April 16, 2020
‘Know that you are not alone’: keeping mental health during safer-at-home coronavirus situation, WTMJ Milwaukee, March 25, 2020
Can we buy happiness?, WORT Radio, December 2, 2019
Buying happiness: Spend on time and experiences this season, NBC 15 News, November 29, 2019

Personal Website

Social Media

Twitter: @christinewhelan
Facebook page:

The MORE Initiative

MORE, the Money, Relationships & Equality initiative at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, provides research, teaching, and outreach to establish equality for women and men in relationships, family life, and financial decision making, while embracing central questions of self-worth, purpose, and meaning-seeking throughout the life course.
Visit MORE

Christine B. Whelan is a clinical professor in the Department of Consumer Science. She is the director of the Money, Relationships & Equality Initiative in the School of Human Ecology. In partnership with the Center for Financial Security, Dr. Whelan teaches and researches on topics of self-improvement, gender, relationships formation, and purpose throughout the life course. Prior to joining the School of Human Ecology, Dr. Whelan was a visiting assistant professor in the sociology departments at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Iowa.

Dr. Whelan earned her doctorate from the University of Oxford for her research on the quest for self-control and self-improvement in America since the 1950s. She continues to research behavioral change literature and programs, incorporating aspects of applied sociology into her teaching. As a nationally recognized expert in the field of self-improvement, Dr. Whelan has authored two books on best practices for emerging adults—Generation WTF (Templeton Press, 2011) and The Big Picture (Templeton Press, 2016)—delivered two TEDx talks on applied purpose, published op-eds in The Wall Street JournalThe Washington PostUSA Today, Chronicle of Higher Education, and been quoted as an expert on self-improvement in ForbesSELFCity Journal, and many others.

Dr. Whelan also researches and writes on changing dating and marriage patterns in the United States. She has authored two books shattering myths of hypergamy—Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women (Simon & Schuster, 2006) and Marry Smart (Simon & Schuster, 2009)—and academic articles on mate preferences. On this topic, Dr. Whelan has been published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Wall Street JournalForbes, and the New York Post, and she has been cited and reviewed in The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, and The Washington Post, among others.

View a more current and comprehensive list of media placements on my website here.

“Discussing Money in Relationships” (TV appearance), Live at Four, January 24, 2019

“Doctor’s Tips: How to Cope with Negative News” (TV appearance), News 3 Wisconsin, December 4, 2018

“Self-Help Gurus Like Tony Robbins Have Often Stood in the Way of Social Change,” Washington Post, April 13, 2018

Wellness: Ancient Practices for Modern Times (foreword written with Dr. Charles L. Raison), 2017

“A Roundabout Path to Self-Help”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 2, 2013

“Beware of Self-Help Gurus”, USA Today, July 11, 2013

“Marriage is Not a Dirty Word for College Women”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 2, 2013

“Measuring Mate Preferences: A Replication and Extension”, Journal of Family Issues, with Christie F. Boxer and Mary C. Noonan, Spring 2013

“Making Marriage Work: A History of Marriage and Divorce in the Twentieth-Century United States”, Journal of Social History, Spring 2011

“Helping College Students Help Themselves”, The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 17, 2011

Generation WTF: From “What the &%$@!” to a Wise, Tenacious and Fearless You, Templeton Press, West Conshohocken, PA, 2011

“James Ray and the Dangers of Self-Help”, The Washington Post, October 25, 2009

A Feminist Friendly Recession?, The State of Our Unions, 2009

Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to True Love, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2008

“It Isn’t About the Trash Can”, Washington Post, November 11, 2008

Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2006

In Consuming Happiness (Consumer Science 173), we explore our attempts buy happiness successfully and unsuccessfully in the market economy. From buying experiences to advice, from insurance to marketing practices, from the business of psychedelics to the business of physical fitness, this class is an always evolving look at how to spend our limited resources in keeping with our values to maximize prosocial outcomes and our own individual thriving.

In EcoYou: Belonging, Purpose and the Ecology of Human Happiness (InterHE 201), we offer first-year students an introduction to the human ecological perspective. From the microbes that inhabit our guts to political revolutions sparked by a tweet, human lives are embedded in an ecology of complex, interdependent systems. EcoYou explores opportunities and constraints for individual and shared flourishing as we discuss power and privilege, the need to belong, purpose and meaning, social identity, money and finances, and much more.

In Finance and Families (Consumer Science 273) we explore the intersection of money and love through the life course. From the basics of relationship formation and dissolution to gender and family dynamics and the psychology of money, this class encourages financial equality among members of families of all types. Designed for those students seeking careers in helping professions—financial professionals, family therapists and other relationship-focused careers—this class offers applied tools to develop profitable and equitable relationships with people of all backgrounds.