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There’s an odd thing that happens whenever women write about how marriage is a better deal for men than women — men want to argue that we’re wrong. Marriage is bad for men, then say and then they back up their arguments by talking about … divorce.

They complain that women get alimony, or spousal support, and while that has been historic-
ally been true, it actually has been rather rare, from about 25 percent of divorces in the 1960s to about 10 percent today or even lower, according to Judith McMullen, a law professor at Marquette University. Let’s not forget that women couldn’t even have credit cards in our own name until the 1960s. So, yes, a few of us who gave up our careers to stay home, watch the kids and take care of all the household duties needed some help getting on our feet. If couples want someone at home to take care of that stuff, the at-home caregiver should be compensated in the event of divorce. But ever since women have been working outside the home, in many cases becoming the family breadwinner, that is changing (in a side note, even who gets custody of the children is changing, too).

Still, I hate to tell it to you, guys, but marriage isn’t divorce and divorce isn’t marriage; there’s no such thing as alimony or child support within a marriage. That only can potentially occur after a marriage ends. (And if men are so upset by things like spousal support and child custody, why don’t they just get a prenup so they can decide for themselves who gets what instead of relying on the state’s prenup?) But if we’re talking about who actually benefits from marriage, it has traditionally been men — and that continues today.

An unequal institution

I bring this up because sociologist Lisa Wade recently circulated a popular blog post on marriage in an end-of-year roundup. Wade writes:

Heterosexual marriage is an unequal institution. Women on average do more of the unpaid and undervalued work of households, they work more each day, and they are more aware of this inequality than their husbands. They are more likely to sacrifice their individual leisure and career goals for marriage. Marriage is a moment of subordination and women, more so than men, subordinate themselves and their careers to their relationship, their children, and the careers of their husbands.” tweet

Why does the media keep promoting marriage for women, she wonders.

Good question, but there’s still a lot of societal pressure to couple up and put a ring on it, even though marriage has been called a “greedy institution,” limiting both men’s and women’s freedom, including sexual freedom — unless you have an open marriage and that, my friends, is up for you to create or not.

Women want in, women want out

Noam Shpancer, professor of psychology, notes in his Psychology Today blog that women work harder for a smaller share of the benefits of marriage, which although they may be more eager to get into, they’re just as often also more eager to get out of, too:

(M)arriage actually appears to benefit men more than it does women. Research has shown that the ‘marriage benefits’— the increases in health, wealth, and happiness that are often associated with the status — go disproportionately to men. Married men are better off than single men. Married women, on the other hand, are not better off than unmarried women.” tweet

Which is why women initiate divorce more than men. This is, as I’ve written about before, not unique to the United States; divorce rates are up across the globe, from the U.K. to Iran to China to even Saudi Arabia, driven by women. Given that there are many places in the world where married women suffer incredible injustices, this makes sense. In some places men can still force their wife to have intercourse (which was only changed in the U.S. in 1993, but there still are loopholes), and others where a man can abduct a woman but all’s OK as long as he marries her (no matter what she wants) or even rape her and then force her to be his wife. Why would a woman want to be married and stay married if that’s how she can be treated?

Despite the fact that many studies indicate marriage makes men become better men — even Ben Affleck agrees — many men still think marriage is better for women. Oh, OK — they want to talk about marriage in the U.S., where the hardships women face elsewhere in the world isn’t quite our reality, thankfully. So why are more women rejecting marriage in the States?

For one, we have choices now and some women prefer to be single. But for others who’d like to marry, well, therein lies the rub.

Women want more from marriage

There’s been much talk about a lack of marriageable men, not only for those in lower socioeconomic groups, but also for educated professional women of any color. Sociologists Tristan Bridges and Melody L. Boyd note that what used to make a man marriage material is changing — it’s not just education and jobs (although, yes, women generally want a husband who makes a good salary, and for many lower-socioeconomic women, that’s essential). Women — finally — want more out of marriage itself:

Many still want the economic security associated with marital households, though women today may not need to lean on this security as much as they did thirty years ago. But, they also want a set of intangibles that is much more related to the quality of the relationship than the individual qualities any given man might possess. High-quality relationships provide economic support, but they also come with emotional support, shared commitments to household labor, childcare, and more. They want a partner in every sense of the word.” tweet

Which means men who only pride themselves on having a steady, reliable paycheck may be doing so “to the detriment of things that women might actually want from them,” thus excluding them from being seen as marriageable.

This probably isn’t a happy thing for men who are either unable or unwilling to change in those ways. It may be easier for a man to work harder and earn more money than it is to take on what some men might consider “women’s work.” But who knows how artificial intelligence technology will impact that; we’re going to lose jobs, and whatever jobs arise will require new skills.

Still, a lot more men are interested in become equal partners, although when push comes to shove, they still want and expect their wives to defer their career to his. And, they’re often penalized at work for taking time off to be more hands-on dads. That is something all of us should be protesting.

The end of marriage?

So what do women want? For women who want husbands, we want more out of marriage. And if women want more out of marriage, if we want the similar benefits men get from it, will this mean that there will be fewer hetero people marrying in the future? Probably. (I make a distinction between hetero couples and same-sex couples because same-sex couples, denied marriage for so long, may be more likely to wed and take advantage of the 1,100 government and legal perks and protections, while also enjoying more egalitarian unions).

And if that’s true, then there are a lot of things society depends on marriage for — like caretaking — that we’ll need to find creative solutions for. Maybe it will be having robotic caregivers. Maybe we’ll have time-limited, renewable marital contracts so we’ll finally be free of the belief that marriage should be lifelong. I believe we need to create a society of modern-day alloparents, what I call carenting, which would hugely help the growing numbers of single people and childfree couples, and that’s important.

What do you think?

Want to know how to create a marital plan to have an egalitarian marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

4 Responses to “What do women want?”

  1. Peter says:

    Hi Vicki,

    I love your articles as they promote alternative thinking about marriage. I’d like to comment on a few things though, and that’s your point of the blog, right?

    “Women subordinate themselves and their careers”. That may be the ultimate result, yes, but my ex-wife made it clear to me after our first born when she quit her corporate job. “I want to be with my baby and I’m tired of working”. Well, I’m tired too, I’m still tired, and while she works part time I get to work two jobs to pay her alimony. Nice gig if you can get it. So my point is, how many women CHOOSE to not work, and CHOOSE to subordinate to their husbands. Our system is geared to encourage this behavior because the woman gets her money back (through alimony/spousal) after 50% of the marriages end, and as you state, most women end the marriage.

    “why don’t men just get a prenup?” I’ll answer that for you. Because, most of the 99% of us, didn’t have a nickle to our names when we got married in our twenties and a pre-nup was not something we even considered. Who would when all we had was a debt from a new couch and new television. So that’s your answer. If I could do it again, of course I’d set up a marriage contract. As for my own kids, when they approach marriage, I’ll be consulting them to make it clear to them that they MUST have a pre-nup if they believe that they will at any time earn more than their spouse. Otherwise, no way, might as well joint the alimony/spousal support private welfare system our government has created and enjoy the checks each month.

    As for me, I will be supporting the same woman from marriage in my twenties through to my 60s. No chance I can ever remarry. I can’t afford to support an additional person. I can handle only 2 jobs at my age to support two households, hers and mine.

    “10 percent today or even lower” receive alimony. I’m not a researcher, so I can’t counter this with any facts at all. But having had countless conversations with other divorcees, dated divorced women, worked with several divorce attorneys, I find this figure highly suspect. I end dates when I learn they are supported by an ex husband. Both from a “stand together with other men” perspective, but also I find it just inappropriate for me to date someone who is supported by another man. It feels like adultery to me. So I break it off. There are too many single women in the sea who handle their own finances and are independent confident women. That’s more my style.

    Thanks for your blog posts, always enjoy reading the interesting ideas you pose.

    P

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      P,
      Thanks so much for your nice words and comments.
      I hope to answer you as best I can. You said your former wife made it clear that she wanted to stop working and raise your first-born. This was a discussion that should have been had before you wed — do we want kids, how many, how far apart, who’ll care for them, etc. OK, this was not a discussion in my parents’ time, and I didn’t do it either (I’m a boomer), but young people now have no excuse.
      Same thing with prenups; it used to be a “thing” for just the wealthy. Well, almost everyone getting married nowadays is coming into the marriage with money and property of their own. The issue then and now is more about people not understanding that if you don’t tell the state what you want, the state decides for you. I had no idea when I married the first time, in my 20s, and then in my 30s, what marriage (and divorce) means; now, I know. Is it realistic to expect idealistic young people (as we were!) to think that way? I don’t know, but they have grown up with much more divorce than I ever did. So, maybe probably.
      I don’t know how old you are but I’m guessing a middle-aged man and I don’t know where you live. I’m in California, and a good number of my female friends were the breadwinners; they did not want to pay alimony and so gave up a lot upfront (he got the house, etc.). Although I always worked part time while being the main caregiver and got a full time job after we divorced, I could not care for my kids without some help. My former hubby and I mediated; my “alimony” barely paid for my monthly utilities, let alone anything else, and it ended when our youngest hit 18. All of my divorced female friends work full time; no one lives solely or even partly off alimony. So the 10 percent does not seem wrong to me, but I understand that things vary a lot from state to state.
      I also would have trouble dating someone living off a former spouse, although there were many people (women mostly) in the past who gave up opportunities and careers to raise children, often by mutual agreement and/or societal expectations, and then faced divorce later in life. Anyone, man or woman, should be compensated for that because caregiving is essential. Some people have mental/physical challenges that make full-time work hard; how do former spouses handle that?
      My advice for anyone marrying nowadays is to have a prenup and a marital plan and many long, hard discussions about expectations and realities — and for the at-home caregiver to always have part time work. Always! It does seem to take the romance out of things, but it’s more likely to make a marriage last, happily. And that’s rather romantic.

      • Rob says:

        Sorry dear but prenups are not worth the paper they are written on. Corrupt, gynocentric family court judges are voiding them these days with dismissive ease. The wife will say that she was coerced into signing, too stupid to understand the terms, or any other lame excuse and the judge will toss it out.

        You admit that “a good number” of your divorced friends are the breadwinners. I don’t doubt that. But their exes are the ones paying the alimony (including yours), not them. That goes for child support too. This is grossly unfair to men but you won’t acknowledge that.

        Possibly the most nonsensical part of your reply is the notion that women should be compensated for staying home with the kids. The large majority did that by their own choice so they should live with the consequences when they pack up and file for divorce. In fact most of these stay at home moms hinder their husbands careers by constant complaining that he is gone too much, doesn’t make enough money, etc. My brother’s ex refused to work and stayed home all day watching Jerry Springer and Oprah while the kids ran wild then she tossed them at my poor brother as soon as he walked in the door from work. Of course she wanted half of his hard-earned money when they divorced. These women don’t deserve a nickel, especially if they are the ones bailing out of the marriage, which 70+% of them are.

        Until the laws are changed to level the playing field men should not get married, especially to an entitled American feminist.

  2. Rob says:

    The amount of delusional feminist thinking on this blog amazes me. If you women are so upset that men don’t do more around the house then you should have gotten that all straight BEFORE marriage. And the nonsense about women sacrificing and giving up careers, etc. is absurd. Most women want kids and want to stay home to raise them while the poor husband has to work hard enough to pay for all of them.

    Marriage is a horrible deal for men and there is nothing in it for us. Women get most of the benefits, especially in the case of divorce. You don’t like to talk about that but half of marriages end in divorce and the women initiate the large majority of them because they know they have little to lose and much to gain financially.

    It is no wonder that women are usually the ones pushing for marriage and us men resist. We are wising up!

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