Friday, January 17, 2014

Marriage means different things to the rich and the poor

Emma Green has an interesting analysis in The Atlantic on why marriage is viewed very differently by richer and poorer women and societies.  Here's an excerpt.

Taking a stand against patriarchy is much easier if you're well-educated, have a stable income, and live in a community where you could theoretically find an educated, employed man to marry. For poor, uneducated women, especially those who have kids, the question of whether to get married looks a lot different: It's the choice between raising children on one or two incomes, between having someone to help with household chores and child-rearing alone while working multiple jobs.

And that's the big difference: For a poor woman, deciding whether to get married or not will be a big part of shaping her economic future. For a wealthier woman, deciding whether to get married is a choice about independence, lifestyle, and, at times, "fighting the patriarchy." There's a cognitive dissonance in Ehrenreich's straight-up dismissal of the economic benefits of marriage, because the statistics tell an awkward truth: Financially, married women tend to fare much better than unmarried women.

This topic has been covered extensively in The Atlantic and other publications. But the way this question is covered in the media tells a similar story of the fundamental divide in who can afford to stand against marriage on principle. Take, for example, two articles on marriage in the New York Times: One is about a 35-year-old Argentinian woman who fears that marriage will erode her independence, while the other is about the vast economic disadvantages that poor, single mothers face. The women profiled in the second story aren't worried about being controlled by men or losing their carefree lifestyle; they're worried about how one income can feed, house, and clothe two (or more) people. Wanting a certain lifestyle, or even wanting to fight against societal pressures to marry, are both questions of privilege.

There's more at the link.  Thought-provoking reading, particularly for those of a feminist bent.



August said...

I think this is probably a misleading article, given that marriage is now pretty much a wealthy person's thing. It in increasingly an old person's thing too. Neither state nor church appear able to grasp the danger that they are in, so they do nothing about it, or make it worse in many cases.

JaneofVirginia said...


This is an interesting post. I say this, as a married woman, and although I am not commenting for myself, I recently had a discussion with a number of my female friends and almost all of them either regretted having married when they did, or they regretted getting married entirely. They cited everything from having their careers impeded by having a husband and being unable to relocate when needed, to becoming disillusioned in their marriages as their husband aged, changed, and became not such a nice man. This made me sad and I have wondered whether I have advised my own daughter adequately. (Who is 28, and has no plans to marry presently.)
It seems that many of the marriages that have lasted 25-30 years, have not been regarded as good deals for the women involved.

Rolf said...

I think it is a sign of affluence and decadence. Quite simply, when you are wealthy enough, and safe enough, your "concerns," the things that bother you greatly, become more and more trivial as you focus more and more of your energy on things higher up Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and as consequence you lose track of the truly important things. Popular media, such as movies like the "RomCons" (romantic comedies) have given just as unreal a vision and expectation of relationships to women as pervasive porn has to men.
When people think they don't "need someone else," because the earn enough to buy what they want, then it all starts to center around "self" rather than "family." I don't know if it happens every time, but the pattern across history is pretty consistent.
Jane, ask them - when they are retired and in the retirement residence with all those other nice old people, do they want to be the ones that are alone, with no visitors or grandchildren dropping by, and having to live vicariously through the children of others, while ALSO leaching on the work of other's children (who are paying SS taxes for their own parents as well), and will they be looking forward to dieing alone, with no family to attend their funeral, to the sound of "well, looks like apartment 14G is open, Mike." Or will their later life be filled with the accomplishments that come with troubles, and go to the grave having left something worthwhile behind?
Speaking as a married man, I'd never argue that it's a state of constant bliss - it isn't. But I have yet to find anything that is potentially as rewarding, either, as having a good spouse and raising a family.
If your biggest focus is how comfy and convenient your life is, you are not human... you are a biological dead end.