Sunday, November 20, 2011

Women, Men, Marriage, and Society

Kate Bolick has written an interesting article for the Atlantic: All the Single Ladies. Bolick is a well-educated, professionally successful woman in her late thirties. She has chosen to remain single—thus far. In her article she examines the various pressures a woman in her position feels to marry, and examines the many reasons why she and other women have, in ever greater numbers, delayed marriage or bypassed it entirely. Her story is both very personal and representative of society in general. It makes an interesting read.

The story of women and marriage is tightly coupled to the story of men in society. The increase in college-educated women with robust careers has been coupled with the tendency for a large segment of the male population to be moving in the other direction, both academically and economically. It is clearly true that men have been hit harder by the changing economy over the past few decades, and that they have been slow in responding to these changes.

"A 2010 study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30 found that the women actually earned 8 percent more than the men. Women are also more likely than men to go to college: in 2010, 55 percent of all college graduates ages 25 to 29 were female."

"As of last year, women held 51.4 percent of all managerial and professional positions, up from 26 percent in 1980. Today women outnumber men not only in college but in graduate school; they earned 60 percent of all bachelor’s and master’s degrees awarded in 2010, and men are now more likely than women to hold only a high-school diploma."

Women have traditionally married upwards, looking for a mate who could provide economic security. What happens if this stock of economically-secure males is diminished?

"Recent years have seen an explosion of male joblessness and a steep decline in men’s life prospects that have disrupted the "romantic market" in ways that narrow a marriage-minded woman’s options: increasingly, her choice is between deadbeats (whose numbers are rising) and playboys (whose power is growing)."

On an individual level this situation is not necessarily dire, unless one clings to old notions about women’s role and place in society.

"But this strange state of affairs also presents an opportunity: as the economy evolves, it’s time to embrace new ideas about romance and family—and to acknowledge the end of "traditional" marriage as society’s highest ideal."

Much of Bolick’s article discusses these "new ideas about romance and family." What is of interest to us today is the implication for society as these trends continue.

Bolick suggests that to discover where we are headed we merely need to look to the demographics of the African American population.

"Given the crisis in gender it has suffered through for the past half century, the African American population might as well be a separate nation. An astonishing 70 percent of black women are unmarried, and they are more than twice as likely as white women to remain that way. Those black women who do marry are more likely than any other group of women to "marry down." This is often chalked up to high incarceration rates—in 2009, of the nearly 1.5 million men in prison, 39 percent were black—but it’s more than that. Across all income levels, black men have dropped far behind black women professionally and educationally; women with college degrees outnumber men 2-to-1. In August, the unemployment rate among black men age 20 or older exceeded 17 percent."

Bolick quotes a black law professor at Stanford, Ralph Richard Banks, who has written a book titled: Is Marriage for White People? He argues that the trends in the black community are a preview of what will occur in the white community.

There is a discussion of Banks and his book in The Economist that provides this chart.

The similarity in trend is obvious, with the major difference being the starting point. What does this portend?

"The collapse of marriage among blacks is well documented (see chart), but not the sexual, psychological, emotional and social toll this has taken on black women. Seven out of ten are single. Of the others, many are forced into ‘man-sharing’."

"Many black women respond by ‘marrying down, but not out,’ as Mr Banks puts it. But that makes bad marriages. Two out of every three black marriages fail, about twice the rate of white marriages."

The desirable black men seem to love this situation; having the pick of women does not encourage commitment to any one on them. Black women have the choice of marrying down or putting up with "players." If they do choose to marry it usually ends poorly.

Bolick states that these trends are becoming apparent in the white community where indicators of family and social stability are falling.

"Just as the decline of marriage in the black underclass augured the decline of marriage in the white underclass, the decline of marriage in the black middle class has prefigured the decline of marriage in the white middle class."

Why should we as a society be concerned about all this? Individual men and women will suffer their fates or find their ways through these issues. It is the residue of failed marriages and failed parents that we as a society will be responsible for. Failed marriages tend to produce troubled children. Men who fall out of the economy will continue to breed and become role models for their offspring.

The fear is that this situation could lead to a downward spiral with a permanent and growing underclass that is unable, or incapable, of competing economically.

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