Feminism ignores uncomfortable truths
Feminism ignores uncomfortable truths
This article, on why marrying young is a good idea, has Jessica from Feministing “skeeved out” and pissed off. Why? Because it, at its core, brings up the uncomfortable truth that many women who put off marriage and childbearing until their later years tend to regret it, because women’s fertility sharply decreases as they get older.
The average age of American men marrying for the first time is now 28. That’s up five full years since 1970 and the oldest average since the Census Bureau started keeping track. If men weren’t pulling women along with them on this upward swing, I wouldn’t be complaining. But women are now taking that first plunge into matrimony at an older age as well. The age gap between spouses is narrowing: Marrying men and women were separated by an average of more than four years in 1890 and about 2.5 years in 1960. Now that figure stands at less than two years. I used to think that only young men — and a minority at that — lamented marriage as the death of youth, freedom and their ability to do as they pleased. Now this idea is attracting women, too.
In my research on young adults’ romantic relationships, many women report feeling peer pressure to avoid giving serious thought to marriage until they’re at least in their late 20s. If you’re seeking a mate in college, you’re considered a pariah, someone after her “MRS degree.” Actively considering marriage when you’re 20 or 21 seems so sappy, so unsexy, so anachronistic. Those who do fear to admit it — it’s that scandalous.
… This is not just an economic problem. It’s also a biological and emotional one. I realize that it’s not cool to say that, but my job is to map trends, not to affirm them. Marriage will be there for men when they’re ready. And most do get there. Eventually. But according to social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs, women’s “market value” declines steadily as they age, while men’s tends to rise in step with their growing resources (that is, money and maturation). Countless studies — and endless anecdotes — reinforce their conclusion. Meanwhile, women’s fertility is more or less fixed, yet they largely suppress it during their 20s — their most fertile years — only to have to beg, pray, borrow and pay to reclaim it in their 30s and 40s. Although male fertility lives on, it doesn’t hold out forever, either: Studies emerging from Europe and Australia note that a couple’s chances of conceiving fall off notably when men pass the age of 40, and that several developmental disorders are slightly more common in children of older fathers.
Of course, there’s at least one good statistical reason to urge people to wait on the wedding. Getting married at a young age remains the No. 1 predictor of divorce. So why on earth would I want to promote such a disastrous idea? For three good reasons:
First, what is considered “early marriage” by social scientists is commonly misunderstood by the public. The best evaluations of early marriage — conducted by researchers at the University of Texas and Penn State University — note that the age-divorce link is most prominent among teenagers (those who marry before age 20). Marriages that begin at age 20, 21 or 22 are not nearly so likely to end in divorce as many presume.
Second, good social science pays attention to gender differences. Most young women are mature enough to handle marriage. According to data from the government’s National Survey of Family Growth, women who marry at 18 have a better shot at making a marriage work than men who marry at 21. There is wisdom in having an age gap between spouses. For women, age is (unfortunately) a debit, decreasing fertility. For men, age can be a credit, increasing their access to resources and improving their maturity, thus making them more attractive to women. We may all dislike this scenario, but we can’t will it away.
Third, the age at which a person marries never actually causes a divorce. Rather, a young age at marriage can be an indicator of an underlying immaturity and impatience with marital challenges — the kind that many of us eventually figure out how to avoid or to solve without parting. Unfortunately, well-educated people resist this, convinced that there actually is a recipe for guaranteed marital success that goes something like this: Add a postgraduate education to a college degree, toss in a visible amount of career success and a healthy helping of wealth, let simmer in a pan of sexual variety for several years, allow to cool and settle, then serve. Presto: a marriage with math on its side.
Too bad real life isn’t like that. Marriage actually works best as a formative institution, not an institution you enter once you think you’re fully formed. We learn marriage, just as we learn language, and to the teachable, some lessons just come easier earlier in life. “Cursed be the social wants that sin against the strength of youth,” added Tennyson to his lines about springtime and love.
… Today, there’s an even more compelling argument against delayed marriage: the economic benefits of pooling resources. My wife and I married at 22 with nothing to our name but a pair of degrees and some dreams. We enjoy recounting those days of austerity, and we’re still fiscal conservatives because of it, better poised to weather the current crisis than many, because marriage is an unbelievably efficient arrangement and the best wealth-creating institution there is. Married people earn more, save more and build more wealth compared with people who are single or cohabiting. (Say what you will about the benefits of cohabitation, it’s a categorically less stable arrangement, far more prone to division than marriage.) We can combine incomes while reducing expenses such as food, child care, electricity, gas and water usage. Marriage may be bourgeois, but it’s also the greenest of all social structures. Michigan State ecologists estimate that the extra households created by divorce cost the nation 73 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and more than 600 billion gallons of water in a year. That’s a mighty big carbon footprint created in the name of solitude. Marriage may not make you rich — that’s not its purpose — but a biblical proverb reveals this nifty side effect: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work.”
Jessica balked that the article didn’t contain enough statistical evidence and did contain too many “sweeping generalizations”. Ever the intellectual heavyweight, she disproved the author’s theory by giving the follow mature response:
Countless studies? Endless anecdotes? Well color me convinced. *Eye roll*
I guess telling women that they better stop with all that work nonsense and get to the baby-making never gets old for some people.
… I have to say, outside of how problematic the anecdotes and sweeping generalizations are, this article simply skeeves me out.
Feminists do love to ignore those uncomfortable truths, don’t they? It’s so easy to brush things like this off as anti-feminist. But it doesn’t make it untrue. Like it or not, women do tend to mature earlier than men, and their fertility does decrease with age. Men, on the other hand, do mature more as they get older and age has little to no effect on their fertility. Does this FACT make science sexist now, too?
Now, no one is saying that women should be forced into marriage if they don’t want to be married. What the author is saying, though, is that it might be wise for women to think hard about the choices they are making and the effect it will have on them in the long-term. A woman who knows she wants to have a big family one day, for example, would be wise to not put off marriage and child-bearing until she is in her thirties in favor of sleeping around or bar-hopping or career-building. Regardless of how feminists like Jessica love to pretend the world is, reality is often quite different. And the reality is, in life, you sometimes have to make trade-offs. No, being a high-powered career woman does not automatically mean you will have to give up marriage and a family. Yes, it does mean you will have to make some sacrifices, sacrifices that may or may not include a woman’s dream of having a family as well. An article like this, one that I read and agreed with whole-heartedly, is simply advising women to think about the decisions they are making and how they will affect their lives in the future. Jessica would undoubtedly sneer that women already do that, but plenty of women don’t. It’s becoming more and more common for high-powered career-women to publicly lament the loss of opportunities to bear children, regardless of how much feminism tells them they don’t need to worry about it.
Again, life is full of trade-offs. Tough decisions sometimes have to be made, and for some (men and) women, that could include the decision to marry young and give up a potentially lucrative career, or to put off marriage and children until later in favor of a career.
And really, by pretending that women can’t deal with making such decisions, isn’t that in and of itself sexist? Personally, I think Jessica’s outrage has more to do with the fact that feminism these days is more concerned with shunning anything resembling traditional values than actual sexism present in the article.
But hey, why bother with a well-reasoned argument, when you can have someone who simply tells you it’s sexist and that it skeeves her out? That’s MUCH more convincing, right?