Okay, we all know I have been married for four decades. It has been a good marriage, very few fights, we are almost always on the same page, or within the same chapter about most important issues from raising children to football team allegiance. As I look back on the years, however, I do what everyone does I suspect, wonder about “what if?” I am the co-planner of an annual research videoconference and next year I want the topic to be on unplanned pregnancies. This is obviously a problem in America. The latest data indicate that 1.7 million babies were born to unmarried women in 2007, a 26 percent rise from 1.4 million in 2002 and more than double the number in 1980. Unmarried women had 39.7 percent of all U.S. babies in 2007 , which is, again double the percentage in 1980. While in many cases the topic has been racialized, with black and Latino births being highlighted that is because the demographers, purposefully or simply as a matter of methodology, frequently deal in percentages rather than real numbers. In 2007, 106 per thousand births to Latinas were to undwed women, 72 per thousand births to black women were to unwed women, 32 per 1,000 births to white women were to unwed women and 26 per 1, 000 to Asian women were to the unwed. Percentage wise the Latinas and blacks are leading, but considering 76 percent of the people in America identify as white one does not have to be a mathematical genius to determine that there are many more thousands of white babies born on what the British would call the wrong side of the blanket.
While doing some preliminary research on unwed motherhood, however, I encountered a different phenomenon. Much of the rise in the birth rates of children born to unwed mothers in the past decade has been not to teenage girls swept up on the waves of adolescent hormones but to women in their 20s and 30s who either chose not to marry or could not find a suitable mate and therefore decided not to postpone parenthood while they waited for Mr. Right. This puts an entirely new spin on the issue. Many of these women are not economically disadvantaged, or uneducated. As a matter of fact one author suggests that the very success of these women is why they are single parents, that they have been unable to meet men, particularly men of their own ethnic group in the case of the blacks and Latinas, that are in their same educational and economic category. The plunging rates of college going among minority males–actually among all males–would tend to lend at least some credence to this theory.
There are also, according to statisticians, a growing number of women who simply do not want to be married. In a study highlighted in Time magazine women were shown to be much fussier about who they would marry, being much less flexible than men in the race, religion, politics, etc. of their potential mate and much less likely to want children. In other words they wanted to maintain their independence. There is one school of thought that says women are beginning to enjoy their independence having only recently, in many cases, achieved it while men do not have to think about marriage as limiting independence since it historically has not done so for them. There is no doubt that a male with a baby on the way is much more independent and able to carry on his life as usual than a woman who is carrying the baby is. Even after the baby is born our cultural norms have changed some but not to the point where most people would consider the father, rather than the mother, the primary care giver.
So, all of this sent my convoluted mind down another track entirely. What is marriage good for? Even more interesting who is it good for? Women? Men? Does race play a role? Does economic status? In a society where sexual norms have changed drastically in the past few decades what is the reason to marry? Surely it is not to have sex, I have not looked at the stats on pre-marital sex recently, but the last time I looked the idea of waiting until you are married to have sex seemed to have gone the way of the dinosaur. Even when I was a young woman back when the earth was still cooling standards had been relaxed a bit for the women and it was pretty much open season for the men. Although Xenia was too much of a backwater to even get most trends like Free Love, we at least heard of it.
So, if you can have sex with pretty much anyone who is interested and stationary, or semi-stationary, long enough to complete the act, perhaps the reasons to get married have been reduced to two, having two parents for the kiddies and economics. Combining of earnings, resources and assets still makes sense. Two could never live as cheaply as one, but two could certainly earn more money than one. And, having two parents to share the rigors of child rearing also makes great sense. What, however, if I am a young, well educated young woman with a very good job and a very good paycheck? Should I want a husband, a picket fence and a vine covered cottage, or should I want a condo,a Corvette a Cosmo and a nanny? After all, most women are not going to stay home and play mommy these days, they are going to work and raise their child in tandem with some variety of daycare provider. The Sex in the City series was wildly popular with young women for a reason.
Does it boil down to finding the right partner? A dedicated, handsome, intelligent, considerate man who can fix things,likes kids, dances well, makes a lot of money, is a considerate lover and likes the same things you like might trump your independence in many cases. But, does he exist? My friends know my theory about six men which I will not go into here!
Anyway dear reader join me in considering these questions, which you are welcome to answer in the comment section of course
1) Is marriage still a viable and desirable option in the 21st century? If so why?
2) Who is marriage better for, men or women?
3) What happens in our society if marriage is becoming extinct?
4) Is it worse to be alone or to wish you were?
5) Can a single woman raise a child as well as a couple?
6) Does the current data mean women are unable to find a mate that is appropriate or does it mean they do not want to be married?
Okay you have your assignments, pencils up! 🙂