a bird and a bottle

Living with a spouse? Now you’re in the minority.
January 16, 2007, 10:54 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, news

The NY Times reported today that 51% of adult women now live without a spouse. Combined with recent reports that fewer than half of adult American households are married, this is sure to set Shlafly et al into a tizzy. The article notes that this shift toward women’s singledom is tied to two factors: first, women are getting married older. Second, women are living longer after being widowed and are staying single longer than men after midlife divorces.

But that’s where the article’s exploration of changes in young women’s lives ends. Instead, the article focuses on divorcees, probably because they’re less political than young, urban career women who challenge traditional gender roles.

This statistic, though, says a lot about the lives and choices of twenty-, thirty-, and forty-something women. First, and particularly with respect to wealthier women who work in law firms, investment banking, and other high-powered time-intensive professions, it suggests that American businesses have not done nearly enough to allow women to juggle both family and career. This isn’t necessarily clear from the data in the article, but is one plausible explanation for the increase in single younger woman. This is not – at all – to buy into the whole paranoia about accomplished women having trouble finding a husband. Instead, I think the numbers indicate that many women feel that career and family may be mutually exclusive.

Maybe numbers like those reported here will help calm the panic about an Opt-Out revolution among mothers of young children. It seems that women are not opting out of the working world so much as opting out of the “traditional” family structure. Which of course will only fan the flames of another panic….

As an aside, I am aware that this post focuses on mostly white, mostly wealthy women. The Times article mentions that even more black women are living without a spouse than white women, but does not go any further than that. I think there are many (many) explanations for this, including the much higher incarceration rate in communities of color (because of greater policing and biased laws NOT greater criminality). But I am tabling that discussion for now so that I can better focus on the implications of the Times’s reporting.

I’m really curious to hear what you think are the implications of these new statistics…and of the way the Times reports them.

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“American businesses have not done nearly enough to allow women to juggle both family and careers.”

Perhaps patriarchal family structures have not changed nearly enough to allow women to juggle family and career – for they are lagging far behind the pace of workplace changes. Alternatively, the NYTimes article seemed to imply that women ARE able to juggle careers and families but are discovering that they prefer the career and friends to a constricting marriage. Now that married couples and married women are both in the minority (and this is even more the case in Europe), it seems high time to question an institution whose precious timelessness – endlessly touted by conservatives – may be more of a burden than a blessing (especially if you happen to be a working woman).

Comment by professorplum

[…] Tuesday January 23rd 2007, 10:31 pm Filed under: feminism & gender, news & views I posted last week (twice) about the new study showing that 51% of adult women are single. Over the weekend there was […]

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