Archives for October, 2012
What about sex? That’s the question that often pops up when people sit back and contemplate the growing demographic and social trends. For decades, the number and percentage of people who are single has been growing. In part, that’s because people who marry no longer get around to it in their early adult years. The most recent data on the median age at which people first marry showed record highs -- 28.7 for men and 26.5 for women. Although cohabitation is growing, too, romantic partners living together account for just a small percentage of all legally single people. That’s where the sex question comes in. If you are not marrying until your late twenties – if you marry at all – and you are not cohabiting, what are you doing for sex that whole time?
I suppose some kids still have parents who ask their kids what they want to be for Halloween and then make those costumes themselves. It is probably much more commonplace, though, for Halloweeners and their parents to search the store aisles for ready-made outfits. That means that the costumes worn on Halloween are in no small measure determined by what the stores are offering. In 2000, Adie Nelson published a paper based on more than a year of roaming the aisles of department stories, craft stores, toy stores, and lots of other places that sold Halloween costumes, and keeping a meticulous record of the kinds of costumes that were available for purchase. She also took note of which costumes were marketed to girls and to boys, and which were neutral (not tagged specifically for girls or for boys).
The rate of divorce is no longer increasing in the United States (except among those who are 65 and older) but the rate is still high enough to maintain a sense of panic among some observers. Many solutions have been proposed for strengthening marriage. In one of them, couples commit to a more demanding form of marriage called “covenant marriage.” Covenant marriages are available in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Arizona. Couples who sign onto covenant marriages must:
I love living single and I know that many other people do too, but that does not mean that it's for everyone. For some people, marriage may be the better option. But how can we know? Of course, I think that most people who are single-at-heart live their most meaningful lives as single people. I don’t have any data yet on how the lives of people who are single-at-heart change over time. For example, if people who are single-at-heart do marry, do they end up less happily married than those who are not single-at-heart? The relevant research has not yet been done. The available research compares different kinds of couples to see which ones have happier or more lasting marriages. A study showing that cold feet (doubts about getting married) are a bad sign, especially for women, has already been discussed at Psych Central (here and here and here). So in this post, I want to tell you about another study that adds to the evidence for the relevance of your own personal doubts, and adds another set of experiences that can also be warning signs.
Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, The Marriage Plot, is not a book I intended to read. The story of a college grad torn between two lovers seemed too likely to be matrimaniacal. But then a friend passed along her copy, and well, it did win the Pulitzer Prize, so I figured I’d at least start it. (Spoiler alert: I’m going to reveal the ending.) Madeleine is an English major who is smitten by the great British novels, even though it is deconstructionism that is all the rage at Brown University in the 80s, when the story takes place. The two men vying for her affections are Mitchell, a spiritual type, and Leonard, a brilliant and quirky biologist who turns out to be a “manic-depressive” (as he is called in the novel). The book is a coming-of-age story about the three recent grads, with a focus on the romantic triangle. The tremendously talented Madeleine attends mostly to the needs of Leonard, putting her own aspirations on hold. She marries very young (early 20s) and wonders whether she should have chosen Mitchell instead. All that is the ho-hum part.
Single women in Nigeria are uniting! They have their own movement. Unfortunately, what they are agitating for are husbands. I first learned about this from The Week, which publishes excerpts and summaries from editorials around the world. The brief piece about the Nigerian editorial began like this: “The ‘spinsters of Kano’ are on the prowl, said the Abuja Leadership. The ancient city, the second largest in Nigeria, has more than 1 million unmarried women in search of husbands, and they have been growing increasingly vocal.” The women formed a group – Voices of Widows, Divorcees, and Orphans Association of Nigeria, or VOWAN – to try to pressure their government to help them. Their governor heard them and came up with a plan to marry off the women at a public auction: “His Islamic religious police announced an initial public offering of 1,000 women to be married off to ‘suitable and qualified candidates,’ who must purchase special vouchers to be matched up.”
Most people don’t like to wait. Who wants to be stuck in a line instead of being at the place you actually want to be? Waiting often seems like a waste of time. It makes us restless and impatient. If we are waiting for news that can turn out to be very good or very bad, that’s stressful. Sure, there are positive versions of waiting – as, for example, when you are expecting something good to happen and you are savoring the build-up – but most often, waiting just seems frustrating, annoying, and boring. There is a subfield of sociology called the sociology of time. That perspective is more structural. It reminds us that waiting is linked to social power. More powerful people go to the head of the line or skip the line altogether. Less powerful people are kept waiting – often by more powerful people.
In the debate over same-sex marriage, there are two opposing perspectives. Advocates of same-sex marriage claim that access to marriage is a matter of fairness, and a civil right; it brings social acceptance as well as more than 1000 federal perks and privileges not available to people who are not married. Opponents point to religious considerations as well as their beliefs about the importance of children having both a mother and father. There is another category of skeptics you may have heard far less about. Their arguments are not about religion, the “true meaning” or definition of marriage, or child-rearing. Many of them come from within the LGBT movement. In the story, “Beyond gay marriage: Is the LGBT movement walking down the aisle to nowhere?", In These Times magazine interviewed people with each of these perspectives.
I never had children and that has never been an issue for me. I enjoy seeing my friends’ kids and adore my niece and nephews, but never wanted children of my own. But others I know feel pained about not having children. So what’s the difference? Is it just that some people want kids and others don’t? Or are social pressures – say, from parents or a partner – important, too? A recent study offers some answers. Reading it made me realize I'm being too simplistic. It's not enough to separate women without children into those who want kids and those who don't; it is also important to ask why they don’t have kids.