Thursday, 2 November 2017


Why Put a Ring on It?

In America, women are waiting longer to wed than ever, and many are choosing not to do so at all. The freedom to pursue high-powered careers and sexually diverse lives without fear of pregnancy or stigma has turned marriage into a choice, not destiny. By 2009 nearly half of all American adults younger than 34 had never married, a rise of 12 percentage points in less than a decade. Unmarried women outnumber married ones for the first time ever.

Single women are reshaping politics. As women tend to worry more about reproductive rights and fair pay, they have favoured Democrats for president since 1988. But the overall women’s vote hides a divide: in 2012 Mitt Romney narrowly carried married women, while the unmarried rushed to Barack Obama in their millions, giving him a 36-point margin. Single women cast almost a quarter of the votes, nearly guaranteeing his re-election.

Delaying marriage is also having economic effects: women aged 25 to 34 are the first generation to start their careers near parity with men, earning 93% of men’s wages. Single women now buy homes at greater rates than single men, a big step in independent wealth-building.

These trends have some conservatives fretting about the decline of the family. The divorce rate rocketed in the 1970s and 1980s, as women who had rushed into unhappy marriages discovered they could make their own way. The boom in divorce encouraged many in the next generation to abstain from marriage rather than enter a flawed one. Now that marriage is simply one option among many, fewer women are exchanging vows, but those that do tend to be in happier, more co-operative relationships.

The divorce rate, now falling, has plunged fastest among those who stay single longest. Despite the stereotype that high-achieving women are doomed to spinsterhood, the truth is that these women are now the most likely to tie the knot, and can afford to hold out for the right match.

Not all women are celebrating. For some, singlehood is less a choice than bad luck. Outside big cities, women who are unmarried into their late 30's are often pitied. For those who hope to become mothers, biology imposes harsh deadlines – though breakthroughs in fertility treatments have raised the number of women giving birth after age 35 by 64% between 1990 and 2008.

In particular, poor single women face a different landscape. Not all are unmarried by choice: America’s high incarceration rate has shrunk their pool of men. Single parenthood is strongly correlated with poverty. Conservatives duly push marriage as the antidote: the federal government has spent almost a billion dollars on pro-marriage programmes, to little avail.