A New York Times article today:
For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one, according to a New York Times analysis of census results.
In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000.
Coupled with the fact that in 2005 married couples became a minority of all American households for the first time, the trend could ultimately shape social and workplace policies, including the ways government and employers distribute benefits.
You'd think, coming out of Taylor, that something like 80% of people our age are happily married, living with a spouse. As it is, according to the article, 16% of 15-to-24-year-old women are married, compared to 42% in 1950. (I'll admit, I don't like this statistic very much for a couple reasons: first, why clump 15 year olds in this group? How many married 15 or 16 year olds do you know? They're just bringing down the average, not proving a point. The second, 1950 was a long time ago. A more recent comparison would be more helpful.)
Why is this news cause for concern?
- Children are at risk. This is not just a life-choice for adults, these numbers affect the next generation. As living together becomes more socially acceptable, more children will be living in households without married role models, and will be living with adults who may or may not be their parents, but are not married. The rate of child abuse in households with unmarried partners is significantly higher, and their economic situation is worse.
- Women should expect to live at least some part of their lives single. Whether it's because they delay marriage, experience a divorce, or simply live longer than their husbands, it's important for women to be able to live and cope on their own.
- People are feeling 'trapped' in marriages This is funny, because I feel more of myself, more free to be me than ever before, in my marriage. One recently-divorced woman interviewed for the article said “A gentleman asked me to marry him and I said no. I told him, ‘I’m just beginning to fly again, I’m just beginning to be me. Don’t take that away.’ Marriage kind of aged me because there weren’t options. There was only one way to go. Now I have choices. One night I slept on the other side of the bed, and I thought, I like this side.” Marriage should not be viewed as limiting, but as a safe place to blossom. On TV and in movies, I see marriage being portrayed as miserable and frustrating, with the dumb husband or the nagging wife (think the Simpsons). Or, in the case of Disney, a two-parent household is non-existent (think Bambi, Beauty & the Beast, Cinderella, Lion King, Dumbo, Toy Story, Aladdin, Finding Nemo, Little Mermaid, Pocahontas...) Cultural attitudes like this towards marriage will wear down the institution.
Why is this news NOT cause for concern?
- Statistics are deceiving. When adjusted for life expectancy- how many happily married wives you'd expect to be living alone, based on women living longer- these numbers probably aren't that strange, and women's numbers would be closer to men's, over the 50% mark. The biggest discrepancy in the numbers is the Widowers category, which could account for the difference. Women live, on average, over 5 years longer than men.
- Delaying marriage is OK. Unlike what seems to be implied by the Taylor student body, it's OK to not get married right out of high school or college. Unlike what some conservatives believe, it's OK for a woman to live on her own, to work, and to use what she's good at to support herself outside the home. It's not 'selfish' or materialistic- sometimes it's the wisest choice. We made the choice to get married right after school, but I know that's not for everyone.
- This report does not hurt the validity of marriage. Just because people aren't doing it doesn't make it a bad idea. There is no reason to think there is a 'war on marriage' or that our culture is beyond redemption. The best thing us married folk can do is live out our values in our marriages, showing through our lives that it is the best option for the long-term, for both the couple and children.