Like Grandmother, Like Granddaughter?


by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger

Newlyweds Brad and Angelina, George and Amal aside, I have some questions: What do we think about marriage? Has its day come and gone? Is society enhanced by a married populace, or is the institution largely irrelevant to our collective happiness?

As usual, when I pose questions like this, I have no idea of the answer. But according to Pew Research, we’re in a time when a record share of Americans adults has never married. In fact, the number is at an “historic high”—about twice what it was in 1960, when about one-in-10 adults 25 or older had never married. Today, that number is more like one-in-five. About one-third of those polled say they’re not sure they want to marry, and another 13 percent say “not for me.” Ever.

Some of the statistics intrigued me; some left me perplexed. For example, in 1960, 93 percent—93 percent!!!—of men aged 25 to 34 were in the workforce. By 2012, that figure had fallen to 82 percent. On top of that, median wages for men that age have fallen about 20 percent since 1980, adjusted for inflation. Surprise! Financial insecurity is one of the reasons people put off marriage.

And consider this: In 1960 there were 139 employed men per 100 employed women ages 25 to 34.  In 2012, that figure dropped to 91, even though there are more men than women in the age group. Couple this with what people say they value when choosing a spouse: For women, it’s someone with a steady job—not great news for the 18 percent of adult men not in the workforce. I’m guessing they won’t be feeling the love. Men say they want to find a woman who holds similar values about having and raising children.

Suffice it to say there were a lot more men in the “steady job/potential partner” category in 1960 than there are today. The silver lining for women? We’re earning more college degrees than we did in 1960—even more than men in 2013—so while finding a likely spouse might not quite work out, women can earn a better living now than they could in 1960.

Here’s what I find so confounding: Last time I checked, we are in the 21st century. We’re 42 years beyond the 1972 Ms. magazine launch, a magazine that emerged as the voice of contemporary feminism at the time, featuring female journalists and feminist voices. Founding editor Letty Cottin Pogrebin believed the writers contributing to Ms. turned “a movement into a magazine.”

On the magazine’s 40th anniversary a few years ago, Ms. Pogrebin said this about the social and historical impact of the magazine: “A world without Ms. would be a world without feisty, fabulous, trouble-making, truth-telling women. For the last 40 years, wherever I go, women have told me how grateful they are to Ms., how reading it changed their lives for the better, inspired them to demand their rights, broaden their aspirations, feel less isolated, and speak truth to power. I’m proud to have been one of the magazine’s founding editors.”

Fine. Lovely. Fabulous. She may have missed the Pew research poll about women defining their ideal partners. I’m quoting the study’s abstract here: “Never-married women place a great deal of importance on finding someone who has a steady job—fully 78 percent say this would be very important to them in choosing a spouse or partner.”

And what about men? “…Someone who shares their ideas about raising children is more important in choosing a spouse than someone who has a steady job.” That was their number one answer.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here: Women marched for this? Whatever happened to “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle?” From what I’ve read, women want a man who can support them, and men want a woman who will raise their children. Groundbreaking.

Maybe I’m oversimplifying here. But wowie! We went to school. We earned degrees, sometimes several of them. We made our way into boardrooms and courtrooms and barrooms and demonstrated our talent and our value to the marketplace over and over and over again.

Turns out that many of the daughters we had between 1980 and 1989 (the ages represented in the research) didn’t get the memo about women being empowered, enlightened, and autonomous. Turns out our sons didn’t either. How else do you explain their “ideal mate” responses?

To me, this feels like a group of people who are free to be exactly who their grandparents were. What a journey.

Renee-JamesRenee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (or wants to, anyway), and she welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.


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7 Responses to Like Grandmother, Like Granddaughter?

  1. Michelle Shaffer October 10, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    Women marched for the right to CHOOSE what they wanted- whether it be a career in a male dominated field, playing male dominated sports, be a stay at home mom or whatever. I am a 60yr old woman who in fact did march, entered into a male dominated field (photogrammetry) and delayed marriage and children until I was 40. Should I feel bad about not returning to work after my second child was born?
    Perhaps our children have grown up expecting these same choices, which explains why 1 in 5 are not married at age 25 as opposed to 1 in 10 in the 1960’s. Women marched for the right to choose without pressure from society. Seems to me we still have a long way to go.

  2. Alice Green October 10, 2014 at 11:43 am #

    Both of my grandmothers were strong, hard working women. Both worked hard to raise and support their children. Both were independent and out spoken and a great role model for me. I didn’t get married because I didn’t want to be anything like my mother, nor pass on her abuse to children. I am happy and grateful to have had both grandmothers and to be able to speak up for myself and other’s who need support in this world. In that way I am so happy to be “Like Grandmother, Like Granddaughter” and thankful to Not be “like mother – like daughter.”

  3. judi hendricks October 10, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

    Wanting your spouse to be gainfully employed does not necessarily equal wanting him to support you. It’s all about sharing the load…especially in these troubled economic times.

  4. renee October 10, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    Thanks for the comments here, everyone.

    Clearly, the more we know about these responses and the stories behind them, the clearer the overall meaning of the research would be. (I am no doubt making assumptions and oversimplifying, as noted in the piece.) Some of the answers deserve some pointed follow-up! Maybe they did get it and it’s not reported in the abstract. It just struck me that the response of wanting a spouse with “a steady job” – even in the spirit of sharing the load as Judi indicated – felt surprisingly anachronistic to me.

    Regarding that missing information and background on the responses, the question I keep asking is why? Why did 78% of the young woman give this answer? Is there something they know or intuit from their own experiences as daughters that led to this response from so many of them? Maybe they watched their mothers try to “have it all” – hate that phrase – and realized it was exhausting and ultimately pointless. Maybe seeking a working spouse doesn’t imply dependence or weakness; maybe it means they’re a lot more logical than women who would embrace the notion of independence for the sake of independence. I don’t know. But it was an interesting (and provocative) response nonetheless.

    Like Michelle, I value the choices I was / am able to make as a woman in her 50s. My husband and I have lived a life that demonstrated to our sons that both men and women are many, many things, including responsible, professional, educated and contributors (at home and at work.) We’ve traded off “traditional” roles so much that our sons grew up with few notions about “women’s work” or “daddy’s chores.”

    I may come by this genetically!! My grandmother was a union delegate in her job as forewoman at a garment factory; working throughout much of her adult life (and had children, born from 1916 – 1930.) She’s one of my heroes; absolutely. (Love your story, Alice.) Two of my closest aunts were professionals for their entire lives; one of them holding a senior leadership position in her field.My mother took about a twelve-year career break then was back at work while she still had school-age children.

    All that to say we all bring our own experiences and perspectives to the world and to the information we encounter – which I love. Always appreciate conversations like these that sometimes result from a post. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Jennifer October 14, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

    I can only speak from my own perspective, but a “steady” income is a big indicator that a potential partner is reliable and capable of making a commitment. I have dated men with patchy work histories, and when things got tough they tended to fall back on being supported by their parents (in their 30s and beyond), and they were unable to hold down a steady job because there were underlying issues (e.g., narcissism, mental health, failure to launch). I’m not talking about someone whose career does not provide a steady paycheque (e.g., actors, musicians, freelance journalists, because that’s the nature of their business), but rather people who simply don’t bother to go to work because they expect someone else to pick up the slack. These are not men who want to stay home and raise kids; these are men who want to stay home and BE kids.

    Having worked so hard for our independence, we are looking for partners who are capable of creating conditions that mean we can continue to be independent. Steady income doesn’t mean a paycheque bigger than my own. It doesn’t mean I won’t take over when the chips are down. It certainly doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be content for that man to look after my children if I wanted to keep working. It just means that he’s demonstrating that he might be reliable enough for me to make those choices with him in the first place.

    It’s only one component, but for me, it has been one of the most telling.

  6. renee October 15, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

    I love that feedback, Jennifer! Thanks for posting. So much of what we do (or don’t do) can be an indicator of many, many more things and reveal many aspects of who we are. Not always of course – but definitely worth noting.

  7. Jennifer C. October 22, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    I totally agree with the other Jennifer. Wanting a partner with a steady income does not mean I want someone to take care of me. I think it means I want someone who is my equal, someone with drive, ambition, and fortitude. So that we can help each other to be successful both in our careers and at home. Women have fought hard for our independence and we want to partner with men who vale and support that. Man-boys who sit around all day playing video games in their momma’s basement are not going to get that.

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