The November issue of the Atlantic Monthly is all about marriage and in their words- marriage scarcity. There are lengthy articles full of both statistical and anecdotal evidence but I will try to summarize the ideas as best as I can (I apologize in advance if this is a bit muddled. My thoughts were all over the place). The main point is that the numbers of marriages and likelihood of finding a marriage partner is getting increasingly difficult.
Here’s some stats: (excuse the long quotes but the articles say it so well)
“Half the adult population is single, compared with 33 percent in 1950; and 40 percent of children are born to single mothers. Partly, this may be a result of women’s no longer feeling compelled to marry a Mr. Collins. But it also appears to signal that the rise of women is being matched by a decline, not just of male dominance, but of men.
Their plight is serious; men have seen their median wages for full-time work fall over the past 40 years. Among other consequences of such deterioration is what Bolick calls a “new scarcity” that narrows women’s choices for marriageable men just as their other choices in life broaden. It seems, somehow, cosmically unfair that when the strong-minded women of Jane Austen are at last set free, they are being liberated into our Shteyngartian (a bleak modern writer) society.”
“Foremost among the reasons for all these changes in family structure are the gains of the women’s movement. Over the past half century, women have steadily gained on—and are in some ways surpassing—men in education and employment. From 1970 (seven years after the Equal Pay Act was passed) to 2007, women’s earnings grew by 44 percent, compared with 6 percent for men.
In 2008, women still earned just 77 cents to the male dollar—but that figure doesn’t account for the difference in hours worked, or the fact that women tend to choose lower-paying fields like nursing or education. A 2010 study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30 found that the women actually earned 8 percent more than the men. Women are also more likely than men to go to college: in 2010, 55 percent of all college graduates ages 25 to 29 were female.”
Does that mean the women’s movement was bad and we should go back to the age of ignorant, submissive women? Of course not but there is a reality that marriage is getting more and more difficult each day, Even in the highly matrimonial culture in Utah and amongst the LDS church I am amazed at how many young men there are who have little to no interest in marriage. It is hard for me to think of a man who is as motivated to find a partner as the women I know. This quote describes it well:
“What my mother could envision was a future in which I made my own choices. I don’t think either of us could have predicted what happens when you multiply that sense of agency by an entire generation.
But what transpired next lay well beyond the powers of everybody’s imagination: as women have climbed ever higher, men have been falling behind. We’ve arrived at the top of the staircase, finally ready to start our lives, only to discover a cavernous room at the tail end of a party, most of the men gone already, some having never shown up—and those who remain are leering by the cheese table, or are, you know, the ones you don’t want to go out with.”
I was speaking with a friend on this topic and he pointed out that he has been hesitant to pursue a marriage partner because a feeling of financial inadequacy. Particularly in a conservative culture like the one I live in there is still the idea that a good husband should be able to provide for a family/wife.
While perhaps this is the ideal I think it is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Most families can not afford to be single income anymore and with all their education women are increasingly hesitant to give up their careers for family. (With some careers the debt incurred to accomplish the career literally limiting women from completely giving them up).
I wonder how many men feel like my friend and worry about providing for a family? Its interesting to me because its not really what I look for in a potential spouse. I want someone who will be my partner, so we can overcome challenges together. I want someone that is my intellectual, not necessarily my financial, equal. I want someone that I can I have a decent conversation with and who likes being with me. Is that too much to ask?
I certainly don’t expect to be taken care of by anyone (not my style!). I wonder if this is part of the reason for the marriage scarcity- men see it as a burden, women as a blessing? (that is a simplistic generalization I know but I’m speaking of over-all trends not individuals). I know that children make providing for a marriage more complicated but why not conquer that challenge together? The man shouldn’t feel like it is solely up to them. Even the stay at home Mom’s that I know are essential to keeping costs down in their marriage so they can live off whatever their husband can provide- its a group effort.
With the women’s movement the entire idea of gender has been confused. Who’s to say what is male anymore or female? Again, in general I think this is a good thing but it can have negative side effects. In the old world a woman knew where to look for a likely mate and typically those men would be looking for them. Now the conventions and dating rules are completely smudged together. This leads to a feeling of ‘winging it’ and hoping to be hit on the head by an epiphany of love.
“Men were our classmates and colleagues, our bosses and professors, as well as, in time, our students and employees and subordinates—an entire universe of prospective friends, boyfriends, friends with benefits, and even ex-boyfriends-turned-friends. In this brave new world, boundaries were fluid, and roles constantly changing.”
“We are in a period of sorting out, in which old customs and conventions are being stripped away, and new ones have yet to be firmly established.”
Sometimes this sorting out can be confusing. I think that’s why so many people are attracted to online dating- it seems simple. They even have ‘compatibility’ systems that supposedly take ‘the guest work out of dating’ (yes, I’ve seen one to many eharmony ads!). I have tried online dating 4 times to no avail. It just doesn’t have the human connection I need to pursue men (or be pursued evidently). This leaves me with the hope of meeting someone randomly (through church or social activities) or being set up by mutual friends (I’ve only been set up 2 or 3 times by friends on actual live dates)…
As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog I am happy being independent and single. While I’d like to get married I will not be devastated if I don’t. I think even in Mormon Utah this type of attitude is becoming more common. After all, marriage is not something you can make happen. If I want a masters degree, I can get one. If I want to serve a mission, I can. If I want to own my own business, I can. If I want to get married…Not so much. It just doesn’t’ work that way and like the articles say it is the ‘new scarcity’ in America.
Most singles are reminded of their marital status (especially in a singles ward in Utah) far too frequently. It leaves me feeling impotent and oddly unworthy- like I am 18 forever and can never progress in some viewpoints without marriage. A couple of years ago at a family Egg hunt I was put with the children hunting eggs. None of my married cousins were grouped this way. It is subtle slights like this which can be very frustrating. To be at the time approaching 30 and still be viewed as a child is very annoying.
Sometimes I admit I can be a bit hesitant to approach this topic because I feel defensive about my life choices- that somehow being single makes me less of a person in some people’s eyes. Indeed, almost all depictions of single women in the media are either as desperate to marry, needy women (every Kathryn Hiegel movie) or cold ice queen corporate executives (Sandra Bullock, the Proposal, Meryl Streep, Devil Wears Prada).
I am not an ice queen and definitely not needy. My single friends out there, how do you deal with the stereotypes of not being married? Do you feel looked down upon or marginalized?
I think all singles can relate to being condescended to or belittled because of our marital status- something we have little to no control over. Again, show me the line to get in for marriage and I’ll be right there. Its just not that easy.
Even worse than the condescension is the pity. Especially people from my grandmother’s generation often look at a single woman and feel sorry for ‘all she’s missed out on in life’…Urgh! Its not my fault! I’ve never met anyone I want to marry. Nobody even close!
These articles were actually quite comforting to me to see that its our entire society that has moved away from marriage, not just the men I meet!
How can singles support marriage and remain hopeful of being married without becoming discouraged or jealous? How do you feel like an equal contributor to society when you don’t have progeny to mold? I have yet to find such a balance.
I wonder how many other women are like me, content to live a productive life by ourselves until we meet the right one? We certainly don’t feel the kind of financial or social pressure to marry that at one time existed for women. In general this is a good thing but it can’t be all positive? Women don’t feel like they need men like they used to. Good or bad?
In truth, a part of me wishes marriage didn’t exist because then there wouldn’t be this big hole in my life (in the eyes of other people). I kind of live my life as if it didn’t exist that way I don’t feel lacking or sorry for myself or like I’m missing out on this huge part of the human experience. I live a happy life and only occasionally wonder where Mr. Sunshine might be…?
That said, I would like a partner to face challenges with. To me it is depressing to think that such opportunities become smaller each year I get older but what can you do? (they say you have a better chance of getting killed in a terrorist attack than getting married above 40…).
“But while the rise of women has been good for everyone, the decline of males has obviously been bad news for men—and bad news for marriage. For all the changes the institution has undergone, American women as a whole have never been confronted with such a radically shrinking pool of what are traditionally considered to be “marriageable” men—those who are better educated and earn more than they do. So women are now contending with what we might call the new scarcity.
Even as women have seen their range of options broaden in recent years—for instance, expanding the kind of men it’s culturally acceptable to be with, and making it okay not to marry at all—the new scarcity disrupts what economists call the “marriage market” in a way that in fact narrows the available choices, making a good man harder to find than ever. At the rate things are going, the next generation’s pool of good men will be significantly smaller.”
How do you think this marriage trend affects our society? Why do you think there is this divide between motivated (marriage and otherwise) women and men? How has the changing definitions of manhood and womanhood affected our society and marriages? What of these changes are good and bad? What, if anything, can we do to encourage marriage? Please read the articles. I think you will find them as fascinating as I did. I don’t know if I’ve done them full justice (they are quite lengthy) but at least this can be an introduction of sorts.