Newsweek magazine revisits a story it featured twenty years ago on the “marriage crunch,” which famously claimed that a 40-year-old single woman was “more likely to be killed by a terrorist” than to ever marry. This week’s cover story concludes that those dire predictions were wrong: most people end up getting married eventually. Ninety percent of the baby boom generation has married or will marry, and women with a college degree-depicted as most at risk in the article of twenty years ago-are more likely to marry than their less educated peers.
What’s most interesting about this article is that it doesn’t challenge the assumption that getting married is a good thing. In 1986, feminists like Susan Faludi had recoiled from the finding that women who put off marriage might miss their chance, claiming it was a scare tactic and part of the backlash against feminism. But the feminist movement-and women’s studies in particular-might have seen this possibility as good news since they have often argued that marriage as an institution is bad for women.
I dedicate a chapter to this topic in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism. I looked through women’s studies textbooks and was shocked by how marriage was bashed as a tool of the patriarchy and a trap for women. One of my favorites was an introductory textbook, which includes sections on “The Case against Traditional Marriage” and “The Feminine Role in Traditional Marriage: A Setup.” It concludes that the “marriage myth, a mystical tale of love, romance, and marriage” is “utterly false.”
The facts tell a different story: research shows that married women tend to be happier, healthier and better off financially. It makes sense that women were concerned twenty years ago when Newsweek suggested their prospects of marrying were so bleak and women should view this new data as good news.
Much of the feminist movement has come around to recognize this and have moderated their disdain for marriage. It makes sense tactically if the feminist movement wants to connect to the lives of most women, who overwhelmingly find that family is the greatest source of satisfaction in their lives. One woman interviewed for both the article in 1986 and the article today exemplifies how many women, even those who see career as their top priority, often ultimately find their priorities change:
At 33, Penny Stohn was so focused on her career that marriage seemed out of the question. But a year later she met a nice, funny guy named Ed Brouwer. They married and had three children. In 1999 Ed died of a liver ailment, and today Brouwer says she realizes that family, not work, is what constitutes a person’s real legacy. “I reflect back on that article, and now I really do know what I was missing,” she says.
It would have been nice if Newsweek had further explored the role of divorce in this equation, because while its good news that so many people are getting married, it’s remains a problem that so many of these marriages end in divorce. The benefits of marriage-financial security and general improved welfare-dissolve once divorce papers are signed, so its just as important to stay married as to get married. But overall, this article seems a good sign both in providing optimism that most people will get married and in demonstrating an increase acceptance of the idea that marriage as positive.