May 29 2013

What Are You Waiting For?

Charlotte Hays

“What Are You Waiting For?” Daily Beast columnist Megan McArdle asks young women.

In a passionate plea for young women to consider early marriage—hardly the norm for ambitious women today—McArdle writes:

As someone who got married in her late 30s, I’m glad that women aren’t racing from commencement to get to the church on time. Nonetheless—again speaking as someone who got married in her late 30s—I think we might now be taking things a little too far. It isn’t that I think we’re missing our chance to get married. In fact, compared with 1930, the number of 50-year-olds who report never having married is actually a bit lower. Rather, I’m worried that if we keep pushing for ever-later marriage, it will come at an ever-higher cost.

One possible cost is that women “might find themselves on the wrong side of the fertility curve.”

Obviously, McArdle doesn’t want women to revert to the old “ring by spring” mentality, but in arguing for early marriage she is breaking a taboo: you aren’t supposed to talk like that anymore!

Susan Patton, a pioneering member of Princeton’s first coed class (1973), found out what a hornets’ nest you can stir up by breaking this taboo. Ms. Patton became a persona non grata among feminists after earlier this year she suggested that Princeton women look for a husband on campus before leaving college.

Ms. Patton wrote a letter to the Princeton newspaper:

“Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal,” she continued. “As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again—you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”

Happily married to a graduate of the University of North Florida, McArdle acknowledged that she “cringed” at Patton’s elitism. But, she asked, “What’s wrong with looking around [your college campus] to see if there’s one who might make a good husband? Or, for that matter, a good wife?”

McArdle writes about the financial and emotional benefits of marriage. McArdle says that in some cases there is a good argument for delaying marriage (if one spouse is in a field that will require frequent moves, for example).

That said, the downsides of my trajectory, writ large, are pretty hard to dismiss. To start with, waiting can run you into what Stanford psychiatry professor Keith Humphreys has dubbed “Grandma’s Lamp” problem. When you’ve lived in a room a long time, it can be difficult to find a lamp that exactly suits a lifetime of accumulated bric-a-brac. And similarly, when you’ve spent decades building a life, it can be hard to find someone who fits with all the choices you’ve already made about where to live, what hobbies and interests you will pursue, what sort of hours you will work, and so forth. “He has his life’s apartment,” Humphreys writes of an acquaintance who is searching for a spouse as he approaches 40, “the wallpaper, the carpet, and the furnishings, and wants that perfect lamp that will accentuate everything in its current form, detract from nothing, and require nothing to be moved even an inch. And he is dating women who are on the same quest, but apparently looking for an equally particular but different lamp. Good luck to him.”

For those who haven’t started looking yet, there’s another risk: the longer you spend dating around, the more likely it is that you’ll become pregnant by someone you’re not intending to marry, forcing the unhappy choice between an abortion, adoption, and single parenthood. And all the research shows that marriage—or a long-term, stable relationship so close to marriage that we might as well call it that—is the best environment to raise children in.

I can’t help noticing that McArdle’s piece it is up the same day that Pew Research releases its “Breadwinner Mom” study (here). That study shows an alarming rise in the number of single-parent households headed by overworked women. So maybe marriage is the hot topic today for a reason.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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