Women and the Myth of Marriage Declining
It has become a truism that marriage rates are in decline. The Pew Research Center, Forbes, and many others spotlighted the fact that matrimony has been on a decline for decades. Some researchers call it “The Marriage Crisis,” but are happy to accept other household arrangements as just as valid (disregarding effectiveness). There are numerous explanations/reasons for the declines. Whatever the reactions and reasons, there is no disputing the fact that marriage rates are at historic lows. Nor is there serious disagreement over the negative impact such trends have for women and children’s well-being or, for that matter, the well-being of society when that pillar of stability and nurturing is wobbly and in danger of collapsing.
Feminists have claimed that they, alone, have the answer to Freud’s millennium-old question about “What do women want?” They have shouted from the rooftops that women’s greatest desire is to be equal to men and independent of them. Feminists have created a widely-accepted myth that men and women are interchangeable and, except for donating sperm, women can be totally independent of men.
With 50 years of experience behind us, what are the facts? What do the data show about women and marriage? About women and their need for men?
Ironically, while women are, in fact, not marrying as early and the decline in marriage is a reality, digging deep into the data shows that by the time women are in their 30s, about 70 percent of them are married (that’s only around 5 percent less than in the past).
Clearly, biological needs and the innate desire for connectedness are factors that overwhelm the ideologies of radical individualism and the feminist rhetoric of the women’s studies programs. We still don’t understand all the implications/ramifications of Desmond Morris’ theories about human behavior, especially the mysterious interaction between our thoughts — the product of our minds — and our “animal” desires — the products of our physical bodies. Nor do we understand the complex interactions between desire and cognition, thoughts and values, emotions and decisions, habits and experience. But in the marriage data we can certainly see the pull between a particular powerful set of values contesting with strong biological needs. We can see the desire for equality struggle with the need for connection and relationship.
Further, the harsh realities of single motherhood, along with the problems created by lowered job prospects, fewer marriageable men, and multiple cultural challenges make life as a single person less appealing than the rosy rhetorical depictions of independence would suggest. Clearly, connectedness is an element of health and well-being; the solitary individual is a rarity, and usually an unhealthy one.
In the following graphs, we look at the percentage (Figure 1) and the number in millions (Figure 2) of married women in the various age cohorts. We studied a group (cohort) of women who were 20-24 years of age in the early 1960s, following them through their life cycle until their mid-40s in the 1990s. As expected, the percentage of those women who married declines steadily from 67 percent in 1963 to 31 percent in 1993. Likewise, marriage among the women in the group (cohort) who were 25-29 years old in the early 1960s declined as well.
The dark green (age 20-24) and the light green (age 25-29) columns both declined steadily for each succeeding cohort.
These trends would seem to bear out feminists thinking about how women — when they have the benefit of proper teaching regarding gender roles in the second half of the 20th century and the opportunity to do so — chose to live their lives. They don’t choose to get married.
This is not, however, the full story being illustrated by the data. Look at the pale blue columns (30-35 year olds).
When the cohort becomes 30-35 year olds (denoted by the pale blue columns), the percent that are married declines for the first 4 cohorts (1963, 1968, 1973, and 1978) but the decline stops with the remaining three cohorts (1983, 1988, and 1993). The same pattern applies to the 35-39 year olds (denoted by the dark blue columns) and for the most part the same is true of the 40-45 years olds (denoted by the medium blue columns).
The fact that the decline in marriage stops and remains stable when women are in their 30s is noteworthy. The data being graphed shows that women are not marrying as early as they historically have done, but the cohorts from 1983 onward, by the time they reach their 30s, have been achieving married status of 70 percent or more; this is only slightly less than the cohorts of the 1970s (about 5 percentage points less) .
It appears that the realities of life as unmarried persons have not fully met expectations; the reality falls short of the myth and the 30-somethings begin marrying in large numbers. In the 15 years from ages 20-24 to ages 35-39, the number of married women in the 1993 cohort of 20-24 year olds tripled from 2.8 million to 7.5 million married.
So much for Gloria Steinem’s contention that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
First published at American Thinker.
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