Single women older than 40 are more likely to be killed by a terrorist than they are to get married.
At least, that was what Newsweek said in 1986. While the statement has been largely discredited, the fear of dying celibate and alone is seems to be just as prevalent today as it was back then (just check out recent complaints in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal ) .
In an article in The Atlantic last week, writer Kate Bolick (single, 39) analyzed the marriage crunch. Drawing upon the wisdom of Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy , Bolick offered an honest look at the marriage market, and explored the question that everyone seems to be asking: why is it so difficult to find someone great these days?
The Abridged History of Western Marriage The Hunter Gatherers
Rewind a few thousand years. According to Coontz, unions between men and women were not ordained for the celebration of love; rather, they were economic negotiations between two people. The benefits of marriage were simple: it was easier to sustain a farm with two people working as a team. Each person offered a useful skill that made the partnership thrive. Until the late 1600s, it was standard practice for women and men to both have incomes.
A large transformation occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries, as society divided into two distinct spheres: the workplace, and the home. A proper 19th century woman was supposed to be the “the Angel in the House” – passive, doting, and entirely dependent on her wage-earning husband. Perhaps we can begin to see what began the female prerogative to “marry up:” since she had no other way to earn a living, securing the promise of a comfortable home was a wise choice.
Rosie the Riveter
Thanks to economical and cultural changes, women enjoy a more equal standing with men. As such, the marriage game has shifted once again. Here are some new variables:
1.) On the whole, people nowadays marry much later on in life-if at all. The average age of marriage for women has risen from 20 to 26 in the last fifty years. 44% of Generation Ybelieves marriage is obsolete, according to Bolick.
2.) 40% of today’s children are born to single mothers.
3.) Women are now often more educated than men (55% of college graduates are female).
4.) Women now compromise over 50% of the workforce.
Because the husband is not necessarily the financial stronghold in the family anymore, marriage market has undergone a noticeable shift.
What this means for marriage Where have all the good men gone?
As women become increasingly educated and successful, the pool of men with higher status than theirs is shrinking. There are simply fewer and fewer men for these women to choose from-unless they decide to “marry down.” It’s a simple supply and demand curve: too many consumers are chasing too few resources.
Men without higher education are encountering the roughest time of all on the dating scene. If increasingly successful women won’t “marry down,” and other women are set on “marrying up,” many men are left in the awkward no-man’s land.
Cougars on the prowl
While it’s true that a large number of women intend to marry high status men, there are some women who are now financially independent enough to be able marry men much younger than themselves. These women become the female equivalent of the stereotypical cradle-robbing man. Just check out Demi and Ashton, Madonna and-well, all of her boyfriends.
Rise of the Playboy
The scarcity of men makes them behave differently: they have been shown to become more promiscuous and unfaithful, since they know they are in demand. In short, playboys gain more and more power, and women, who may be facing increased infidelity from a partner, are likely to focus on their career.
What does this mean for you?
Before bemoaning never finding anyone-don’t. There are some factors that will always be out of our control, such as demographics. What we should focus on are the things that we can control-namely, our perception of partnership.
Many people fall into the trap of constantly seeking better versions of themselves. But naturally, as people become more educated and successful, our expectations may become unnaturally high. Many successful women (and men) now have expectations that no partner-even a great one-will be able to meet.
This certainly does not mean anyone needs to learn how to settle, nor does this mean that people should stop striving to be the best they can be. What it does mean is that we can’t expect to find someone as perfect as the person in our imagination. When someone asks, ‘where have all the good men gone?’, it’s possible that ‘good’ men never really went anywhere. All that changed was the expectation that they be ‘perfect.’ Imperfections are an integral part to being human, just as compromise is the foundation of a steady relationship.
And there are some hopeful statistics in all of this. Bolick notes in her article that after the American Civil War – which saw the death of 620,000 men – women (especially Southern women) were faced with a severe “marriage squeeze.” But even despite the massive loss of potential husbands, 92% of Southern women ended up finding a partner.
92%? That’s not bad.
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