Sisterhood Blog

Single-Minded About Single Ladies

By Elissa Strauss

  • Print
  • Share Share
The Atlantic
An Atlantic cover story about single women.

Over the summer in The Atlantic, writer Kate Bolick looked into why smart, attractive women like herself may never get married. Through a heavy dose of anecdotes and a smattering of science, Bolick ascertained that the problem is that the more women achieve more the less they have in the way of marriage prospects. She boils her marriage choices down to two categories: the growing number of under-performing men (referred to as“deadbeats”), and the increasingly rare high-performing “playboys,” who have more power than ever in this era of male decline.

Bolick’s piece was a blockbuster in the world of magazine articles, earning her 50,000 Facebook likes and a mega book deal. There’s even a TV series in the works. Her story clearly tapped into some real anxiety about how we live now — sociologist Eric Klinenberg has a new book in which he argues that the rise of solo living is one of the biggest demographic shifts of our time — but ultimately the social science girding her analysis was a little weak.

Now marriage historian Stephanie Coontz is out to set the record straight about high-achieving women and their marriage prospects. In a recent New York Times editorial she writes: “For a woman seeking a satisfying relationship as well as a secure economic future, there has never been a better time to be or become highly educated.”

Coontz goes on to say that there was indeed a time when a women’s success could work against her in her personal life, and for most of the 20th century women were indeed forced to choose between a family and a career. But now not only does achievement no longer hurt women, in can actually help them.

She writes:

One reason educated heterosexual women may worry about their marriage prospects today is that overall marriage rates have been slipping since 1980. But they have slipped less for educated women than for anyone else. Furthermore, college-educated women, once they do marry, are much less likely to divorce. As a result, by age 30, and especially at ages 35 and 40, college-educated women are significantly more likely to be married than any other group. And according to calculations by the economist Betsey Stevenson, an educated woman still single at age 40 is much more likely to marry in the next decade than her less educated counterparts.

Coontz also mentions that educated women get more help from their husbands with housework and have more satisfying sex lives.

So why did the piece strike such a loud chord when its thesis was a little wrong?

I think it has something to do with the unending fascination with the single woman. If you think about it, the plight of the single women has a little something for everyone. Singles get a sense of comfort knowing that they are not alone. Marrieds and long-time cohabitators get a little ego-boost knowing that, despite the alleged odds, they found a partner. Social conservatives like the fact that marriage is still of interest to feminist-types like Bolick, and social progressives and/or feminists find validation in the evidence that successful and powerful women are still not embraced in our society.

What bothers me about the abiding interest in single women is the mechitza, or partition, it maintains between men and women when it comes who is responsible for our collective personal lives. We hear about how shifting gender roles have contributed to the decline of marriage, but the onus tends to fall on women and what they can be doing differently or better. We rarely see this level of exegesis applied to the single man.

Now I know that things like marriage and children tend to be of more interest to women, and I am most definitely one of those women. However, just because I am interested in these matters, does not mean that I only want to read about them from a woman’s perspective. I do hope that Bolick’s book will include the other half of her story, and get into the lives of the “playboys,” the “deadbeats,” and those in-between.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Stephanie Coontz, Single Women, Marriage, Kate Bolick

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.