Time magazine, it seems, cannot get enough of telling single people and their children that they are just not as good as married people and theirs. Sometimes Time seems to be in the marriage-promotion business, peddling ideology rather than reporting. Most disturbingly, it does so under the guise of telling us what science has supposedly shown. On those rare occasions when a Time article on marriage lets in a dissenting voice, that voice gets trampled by the end. Time is on the side of married people and their families. I think it always has been.
Time Magazine’s Embarrassing History of Glorifying Married People and Disparaging Singles
In a July 2009 cover story in Time, a single woman is described as “emotionally needy,” and the lives of the children of single parents are described as “drastically” worse than those of the children of married parents “on every single significant outcome.” This was singles-shaming, blatant and unapologetic. There was something truly “drastic” in the article – the representation of the scientific research was drastically misleading and inaccurate. In fact, as I explained in Singled Out, the vast majority of the children of single parents are doing just fine, and many children of married parents are not. In the case of children of divorce, studies that have followed those children over time, starting when their parents were married, show that any problems they are having often started while their parents were still married. There are also ways in which the children of single parents do better than the children of married parents. (For even more about what’s wrong with claims that the children of single parents are doomed, check out the brief book Single Parents and Their Children: The Good News No One Ever Tells You.)
A year later, in 2010, Time had another cover story on marriage, in which a successful marriage was described as “the relationship equivalent of a luxury yacht.” And now, in June of 2016, Time published still another cover story on marriage. Apparently, it is the 37th article on the topic this year, and the year still is not halfway over. (Time has a special section on marriage on its website.)
Here is a sampling of the topics covered by some of the 37 articles:
- “Watch a firefighter pull off an elaborate wedding proposal”
- “Why you should take your personal life as seriously as your career”
- “The 1 question that can save your relationship”
- “What to do if your partner speaks a different love language”
- “Why guys who go to church could be happier on Valentine’s Day”
- “How marriage can influence your blood pressure”
- “7 marriage lessons from the Reagans”
- “What couples need to know about Social Security”
- “What same-sex couples need to know about Social Security”
- “Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron says wives should ‘respect and follow their husband’s lead'”
It is more difficult to find articles on single life, since Time has no section on single life paralleling the one for marriage. So far as I can tell, there have been 19 articles so far about singles, using very broad criteria in which even a mere mention that someone is single got counted. Some of the articles are superb, including an essay on singles-shaming by Chelsea Handler, that Time should require all its writers to read before they craft still another article shaming single people. Other examples, though, are not exactly on a par with all the fawning stories about marriage. Rather than thoughtful discussions of the full and meaningful lives that many single people lead, we got, for example, “Every single season of the Bachelorette, ranked,” and “Nick Jonas found a cure for a broken heart and it’s ‘Bacon’.”
Still Happening Today: Matrimania and Singlism in the 2016 Cover Story in Time
In the most recent cover story, “How to Stay Married (and why),” readers are treated to these misleading statements and disparaging comments:
“Studies suggest that married people have better health, wealth and even better sex than singles, and will probably die happier.”
“Most scholars agree that the beneficial health effects are robust: happily married people are less likely to have strokes, heart disease or depression, and they respond better to stress and heal more quickly.”
“…new evidence keeps piling up that few things are as good for life, limb, and liquidity as staying married.”
“Not all children of divorce are the walking wounded their whole lives, but the stats are not encouraging.”
“…married people are more likely to behave responsibly about their health because…other people need them.”
Elsewhere, I critiqued the first few claims. Basically, these statements range somewhere between grossly misleading and outright false. Except for a one-sentence quote from me (“If you want to say that getting married and staying married is better for your health than staying single, then you need to compare the people who chose to stay married with those who chose to stay single. I don’t know of any studies that have done so.”), all of those derogatory and dubious statements about the science of marriage are presented as facts. Taken together, they convey one message throughout the article (my paraphrase, not a direct quote):
Single people, you and your children are second rate. Married people and their children are better than you.
This is an especially odd time to be peddling such singlism and matrimania. Here are a few reasons:
- In the U.S. today, more than 107 million people, 18 and older, are unmarried; that’s nearly half of the adult population.
- The number of single people has been growing for decades.
- Americans spend more years of their adult lives not married than married – something that’s also been true for many years.
There are other reasons why Time‘s timing seems bizarre, but I’ll come back to those in the final section.
Making It Personal: Time Tells Single People No One Needs Them and Calls the Children of Single Parents “Walking Wounded”
I was raised by two married parents who stayed married, so my reactions to the condescending comments about the children of single parents are not personal. Still, I shuddered at the writer’s description of most of those kids as “walking wounded.” Perhaps if she considered the full range of what we know about these children, including the fact that they spend their lives getting rhetorically beat up by publications such as Time, she would have offered some other descriptions, such as resilient and strong.
The last of the quotes is personal. Married people are healthier because other people need them? Is Time magazine really telling single people that no one needs them? That would have been news to my widowed mother when she was terminally ill, and I made the 754-mile round trip from my job in Charlottesville to be with her over and over again until the day she died.
I feel quite sure that the author would never say that women should not worry their pretty little heads about running for office or that maybe African-American students should take the easy courses that they can handle. But she’s okay with characterizing the children of single parents as walking wounded and telling 107 million single Americans that no one needs them. This is not really about her, though. Americans routinely make singlist statements, unselfconsciously and unapologetically. Even those who are paid to be discerning and respectful. This cover story was presumably edited by at least one other person at Time, and apparently no one found anything wrong with any of the offensive portrayals.
That quip about how married people are healthier because they are needed is not just insulting, it is wrong. First of all, getting married does not make people healthier, as I described in my other critique of this cover story and in more detail here. Second, in some ways, getting married compromises health. For example, people who get married get fatter. Third, single people provide more help than married people do to their aging parents. It is also single people, more so than married people, who are likely to step in and provide help when it is needed for three months or more, and not just to their parents. Single people also exchange more help with parents, siblings, neighbors, and friends in everyday life situations. But go ahead, Time magazine, tell the world that married people are needed and single people are not, and that’s why getting married makes you healthier (even though it doesn’t).
Here and there, Time seems willing to acknowledge that maybe single people and single life are not all that awful after all. For example, readers are told that there have been “shifts in cultural, technological, and economic forces, many of which have made single life a completely viable and attractive proposition.” But then that is immediately followed by the misleading matrimaniacal claim that nothing is better for life and limb than staying married. In this article, married people are always better than single people.
I also started to feel hopeful when I read that for married career women, “…their careers make it simpler for them to imagine a life without a spouse. They have their own income, a network of friends and associates and their own retirement savings.” But then, a few sentences later, I found out what Time really finds attractive about living single – it is easy to become unsingle: “And now, people – of both sexes – feel like they have options to spare. They can find old flames easily. Or they can drop their lure into the vast schools of partners in online dating pools.”
To Time, there’s just no getting around it. If you are single, you are second rate. Married people are simply better than you. What you really need to do is organize your life around becoming unsingle, so you, too, can one day be as good as those awesome married people.
Why It Is So Odd that Time Is Engaging in So Much Matrimania and Singlism Now
Time isn’t entirely wrong in characterizing married people as better off. As I’ve noted elsewhere, they receive many unearned financial rewards, simply because they are married – rewards that are subsidized by the single people who are not getting them. And they are massively privileged in other unearned ways as well. In a sense, Time was also correct years ago when it compared marriage to a luxury yacht. Marriage is now a class-based institution, in which those with more educational and economic resources are more likely to marry. Considering all the ways in which married people already get more than they deserve, and the other ways in which Time thinks marrying makes people better (even though it doesn’t), why is Time continuing to publish dozens of articles glorifying married and demonizing single people? It is as if their reporters have decided that when it comes to marriage, it is fine to upend the noble goal of journalism. Time is comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.
It is odd, too, that Time is so preoccupied with celebrating married people and blithely disparaging single people, at a time when so many more sophisticated and less regressive conversations are happening elsewhere.
New York magazine, for example, flaunted the growing political power of single women on its cover. The Washington Post published “I’ve been single all my life. I rarely get lonely.” (Okay, I’ll admit it: that one is mine.) An article written by a single woman in The New Statesman included statements such as “I’m happy as I am” and the wise observation that the economic price of single life “has been taken as proof that marriage is better for women – when it should, in fact, be a sign that society must do more, and better, to support women’s choices as men have been supported for centuries.”
But Time magazine still wants us all to get married and stay that way. It is happy to tell us “how to stay married (and why).”
What’s next for Time‘s cover? I’m betting on a special issue for women: “How to stay barefoot and pregnant (and why).”