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Marital inequality

Jessica Grose isn't impressed by the statistics in Lori Gottlieb's case for settling, which is based on the argument that there are tons of professional, single women unable to find a husband. The numbers, Grose says, show something very different: Professional women are fine. It's their less-educated brethren who are struggling:

Like many people who write about the marriage predicament of a narrow slice of America, Gottlieb is conflating her statistics. It's true that the percentage of married women has been declining since the ’70s. But that decline has nothing to do with those unhappy lawyers and graphic designers. In fact, college-educated women — and Gottlieb's book is filthy with attorneys and screenwriters and executives — are still getting married at extremely high rates. And these days they are far more likely to stay married than they were 40 years ago. Marriage, in fact, has never been kinder to the professional woman. So while there may be a few holdouts, it hardly amounts to a crisis. It's a tiny problem for the very privileged picky few.

To sociologists who study marriage, what's troubling lately is the chasm that has opened up between the most- and least-educated women. About 80 percent of female college grads ages 30-44 have been married at some point, compared with 71 percent of women who did not graduate from high school, according to the latest Pew research. The marriages of college grads are also increasingly stable. From the 1970s to the ’90s, rates of divorce fell by almost half among college-educated women, but they remained high among women with less than a four-year degree. If there's a crisis in marriage, it's because the least educated and poorest women are no longer getting married.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 2, 2010; 11:44 AM ET
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It seems to me that what Grose is saying doesn't necessarily contradict what Gottlieb is saying.

Gottlieb urges women to "settle" - for professional women in their 30s to find someone they're compatible with and marry them rather than hold out for Prince Charming. Gottlieb also argues these kinds of marriages are often more stable than marriages made from youthful passion. Grose says that, contra Gottlieb, there is no "crisis" for 30-something professional women so they shouldn't have to settle.

Perhaps Gottlieb is wrong that there's a crisis, and Grose may be correct in calling her on that. But maybe the reason there isn't a crisis - maybe the reason that most 30-something professionals ARE married - is precisely because they ARE settling. It seems to me that many single, older professional women do exactly what Gottlieb suggests: they had fun in their 20s, but in their 30s they are both grounded and desirable, and are therefore settling for men they are compatible with rather than holding out for Mr. Perfect.

Posted by: Isa8686 | February 2, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

"About 80 percent of female college grads ages 30-44 have been married at some point"

What's the benefit of having been married "at some point"? That's like having dated, but with lawyers.

Regarding Mr. Perfect, settling for compatibility is a gender-neutral requirement. I don't expect there are many Mr. Compatible's married to mythical Miss Perfects out there.

Does the structure of the current welfare system punish marriage among those with low-incomes, or vice-versa? One would wonder why lower-income, lower-educated folks--those supposedly oppressed by the patriarchy and stuck in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant--are in fact the ones not getting married.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 2, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

When will you idiot young people stop referring to every office job as "professional" even if it's not an actual profession like being a doctor or lawyer? You make me want to vomit! You don't read your blog comments anyway so I don't know why I'm posting this.

Posted by: mellifluent | February 2, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

That appears to be terrible news for those of us looking for unmarried professional women!

Posted by: adamiani | February 2, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Hey, if you can have a baby and have someone else pay for it, then you don't have to marry some drunken, drug-ridden dolt with bad breath and an STD who's going to beat you silly. Welcome to the liberal plantation.

Posted by: neilwied | February 2, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Upper-middle class couples are less likely to divorce because they have property and wealth.

Dividing that wealth is complicated, expensive and very painful.

Neither spouse wants to lose their home.
Divison of property and money is likely to lead to bitter disputes.

Men will usually wind up paying alimony and child support.
Women will usually wind up in a lower economic bracket than they were before the divorce--and never recover economically.

Many of today's 30 and 40 something women saw their mother's divorce, and saw what happened to them ecnomically.

So if your spouse is unfaithful, becomes/is an alcoholic, becomes aloof, sarastic or cold, the working-class wife or husband is more likely to say "that's it"--and walk away.

In terms of property, there's not that much to lose. Children may keep the couple together, but if the household is very unhappy, that's bad for the kids too . . .

I don't think that upper-middle class couples have gotten better at marriage, but they do have more wealth and property than ever before, and they are wary of the ecnomic consequences of divorce.

So much of our culture is money-driven.

(Finally splitting up may be socially more acceptable in working class, lower-middle-class cultures than in suburuban upper-middle-class, upper-class cultures.

Less of a sense of social shame or personal failure-- your neighbors are less likely to be disapproving, more likely to be sympathetic (at least to the woman.)

Posted by: mahar1 | February 2, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

I actually know three couples with children who live together but aren't married because they want health insurance (Medicaid) for their kids. They all profess vague plans to marry sometime in the future, when they have more money or find jobs with insurance. So I would answer Yes to KW's question-- "Does the structure of the current welfare system punish marriage among those with low-incomes?"

Posted by: julie18 | February 2, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: tps12 | February 2, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

"If there's a crisis in marriage, it's because the least educated and poorest women are no longer getting married. '

But they are, unfortunately, having children anyhow.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 2, 2010 11:10 PM | Report abuse

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