Across the globe, it’s a similar story — fewer people are choosing to marry and more are divorcing. Except, maybe I shouldn’t say people. Maybe I should say women. While it’s true that more men than women aged 30 to 50 say they’re not interested in tying the knot — 27 percent versus 8 percent of women, according to a recent Pew survey — many women seem to be interested in creating a meaningful and productive life whether they have a partner or not. And that includes having kids as solo parents.
According to sociologist and author Pepper Schwartz, 53 percent of U.S. women aged 18 an older are single and many may stay that way for good. Why? She suggests that marriage just isn’t a good deal anymore for women, especially now that we have so many options.
When women’s life choices were highly constrained, they had little negotiating power. They had to marry or were seen as damaged. … It’s different now. While most women still want marriage, they don’t want it at just any price. They don’t want it if it scuttles their dreams. … women want to craft a life instead of having it pressed upon them. And that means some of us will be single for a long time, and some of us will be single for life. tweet
And this appears to be true for women all over the world, not just here in the United States.
The divorce rate in Iran has been skyrocketing since 2006, with about 20 percent of marriages ending in divorce. Why? “There has been a big growth in individualism in Iran, especially among women. Women are more educated and have increased financial empowerment,” according to Hamid Reza Jalaipour, a sociologist at Tehran University. “It used to be that a woman would marry and she would just have to get along. Now if she’s not happy, she’ll separate. It’s not taboo.”
It’s the same in the United Kingdom, where the number of divorces in England and Wales are rising. Again, it’s women who are overwhelmingly asking for a divorce.
Ditto for China, where the divorce rate is about 19 percent, nearly five times the 1979 rate. Divorce, once a dreaded fate for women in China, is now considered almost as a civil right for young women. No surprise that it is the women who are initiating divorce (although a new law may hurt divorcing women, or maybe even keep them from marrying altogether).
And even Saudi Arabia.
Back home, there are more divorced or separated women in the United States than ever before — 15 percent, compared with less than 1 percent in 1920. Here, like elsewhere, women drive divorce, filing more than two-thirds of the divorces.
Are women anti-marriage? Not necessarily, but marriage hasn’t been all that great for women — for many years our husbands could legally beat and rape us (both are still allowed elsewhere in the world), and it wasn’t until the 1960s that we could have credit cards in our own name, serve on a jury or attend an Ivy League university. Once no-fault divorce came along, the rates of suicide, domestic violence and even murder at the hands of their partner for women dropped dramatically. But sadly for many years, marriage was a woman’s only option.
Except times have changed, right? Women are better educated, earn more money and have readily available contraception. And studies indicate that by waiting to tie the knot until they’re 30 or older, women accumulate more wealth — about $18,152 (nothing to sneeze at). Not so fast. Despite all the declarations of shared breadwinning and caregiving young couples aspire to, when push comes to shove most men say they expect their wives to take on most of the parenting duties so they can focus on their careers.
And the ladies?
So, why are women so unhappy with marriage? As I’ve written before, women tend to be responsible for most of the emotional caregiving and that takes its toll.
But is that it? Maybe not. There are a lot of us who just aren’t eager to look at our own crap. According to a study by psychologist and author Terri Orbuch, research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, 65 percent of divorced individuals blame their former spouse for the problems in their marriage, but here’s the kicker — women are much more likely to blame their former spouse than men are, 80 percent compared with 47 percent. And while 16 percent of men blamed themselves just 4 percent of women do the same. (Although some researchers suggest women invest more energy and resources into maintaining our relationships than men do, and thus might resort to finger-pointing because we believe our partner wasn’t investing as much into it as we did.)
What does that mean? I have no idea. We know from studies that men benefit from marriage — married men tend to be healthier and better off financially than unmarried men— but suffer the most in a divorce. But I have to question whether marriage is good deal or a raw deal for women. What do you think?
Interested in learning about ways to re-create your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press, September 2014). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Let’s Occupy Marriage!