NYT: The privileged Americans are marrying which helps them stay privileged

About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago.

But equally sharp are the educational divides, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent.

Long concentrated among minorities, motherhood outside marriage now varies by class about as much as it does by race. It is growing fastest in the lower reaches of the white middle class — among women like Ms. Schairer who have some postsecondary schooling but no four-year degree. – Two Classes in America, Divided By ‘I Do.’

I’ve been thinking  about the concept that Stanford professor Ralph Richard Banks describes in his book Is Marriage for White People?  as “white follows black.” He talks about the fact that what happens to black women who may not be following the marital patterns of their predecessors and who face all sorts of social barriers based on their single status, are actually also setting the stage for how life will start to be for white women.

The article above shows that theory might be correct, as flawed as it is. (Side note: I dislike the New York Times’ reductive take on single people, generally, and this piece is no exception).  I have such an odd relationship to privilege, and yet, given my upbringing, it makes total sense. I want enough to do the work that I am passionate about in the world, but I hate privilege because it excludes people who have very little. In fact, I hate most things that exclude people, but that’s the rant of an outsider, and I’ll get to that later.

The article includes some not-great news about single parenthood. Never say never, but I am highly unlikely to be a parent, so I never write about the topic. Also, given the unpredictable nature of marriage and the fact that I have essentially spent my entire life trying to avoid becoming a single parent, it sounds like it might not the path for me. I do find it interesting that the Times notes that single parenthood has gone from being an anomaly to being pretty popular. That also falls in line with Ralph Richard Banks’ ‘white follows black’ theory. I love that single mothers had to be validated by the fact that the last three American presidents were raised by single mothers. Children of single mothers, you, too, can be great!

Bella DePaulo, an expert on singles and cultural bias against singles writes more about the piece at Psychology Today, which she calls deplorable:

Also missing from the Times story is any awareness that stigmatizing stories such as this one are contributing to the disparity in the experiences of single-parent families and married-parent families that DeParle believes he is merely documenting. Go ahead, keep telling the single-parent families how bad they have it because there is no “6-foot-8-inch man named Kevin” and how superior the married families are because they do have their Kev. That sort of mythologizing and moralizing probably nudged Jessica into finding “a new boyfriend, who she thought would help with the children and the bills,” but who had to be tossed out by the police six months later.

Really, “just get married” isn’t the answer to the economic challenges of single parenting any more than “just say no” is the answer to drug addiction.

100 million single people…and it’s still rough out there.

A book excerpt from Single & Happy:

I could not believe no one had written a first-person account of dating as a single woman in the 21st Century and how to cope with all the shenanigans that come with the package, because no matter how brilliant, sexy, big-boobed, erudite or compliant with societal norms a woman is or is not, it is really rough out there for single people. The insinuation that singles should be coupled or something is wrong with them doesn’t make it any easier.

Not just a little bit rough, honey. It is incredibly hard to find like-minded people with true commitments to self-awareness and goals that are scheduled beyond a calendar date in the next couple of weeks. There are books on weight-loss, getting your money right, how to be more devoted to God, and of course, how to get a man. What I really needed for a good decade, though, was a book on how to be happily single.

The book I wanted to read and kept waiting for was one that would inspire other single people to slog through the ridiculous maze that comes with being alone in a culture that devalues single people.  I wanted to create a space online for others who were uncomfortable with the dominant cultural narrative in the United States that continues to profit those who constantly tell singles that we are incomplete, not enough, not worthy and amoral if we are content to live, travel, dine and go to the movies by ourselves.

I also wanted to celebrate the beauty and community available to a vast network of singles that did not rely on anything but a community of singles and our allies for exposure.

I’m not interested in being the anti-Steve Harvey, the new Oprah or any kind of New Age guru, relationship expert or life coach. I am just one nerd in a big world who does the best that I can to make sense of an influx of information, social cues and daily life. The narrative that casts single people as the avatars of loneliness, as Michael Cobb has written in his new book, just happened to get stuck in my craw as I was making a lot of transitions in my life. As other journalists will tell you, sometimes you can’t just let a story go.

My motto is to take what is useful and leave the rest. I hope that the stories and information here will be applicable across gender identities, sexualities, ethnicities and economic backgrounds. My intention is to celebrate and document the moment we are all in. While I bring my own biases to this predicament as someone who has been self-reliant and a loner since I was very young, I wholeheartedly believe there is something valuable her for most dating adults.

And we are a huge tribe. In 2010, almost half of all American adults, 100 million, were single – the highest rate in recent history. While those singles spent $2 trillion a year on consumer products, according to Boston Magazine, marketers were still marketing mostly to a culture wedded to heterosexual relationships. But outside of the blogosphere, aside from isolated examples of singular (pun intended) narratives of single people and their journeys, there are few stories that contextualize single life in a positive way.

The stories I found lacking are those that express the fun, joy, humor and moments of serenity that come with single life. The Boston Magazine story was one and Kate Bolick’s now-infamous piece in the Atlantic was another. What are some of the positive stories about single life you’ve seen?

Following up on black women and protection: I’ll be on NPR today

My Target Market piece about black women and guns, which I originally wrote for Bitch Magazine, has started getting some attention this month. It surprised me (is July a big shooting month?) but I’m really excited about it, so that’s no complaint.

The UTNE Reader republished the piece in its July/August issue. It’s a shorter version of the original piece, which was close to 4,000 words.

Then Andrew Sullivan, a popular blogger at The Daily Beast (who I have enjoyed reading since he was at the Atlantic) linked to that story last night.

I’ll be talking on New Hampshire Public Radio in a few minutes about the piece. You can listen on the web, if you have time. I think they’ll have a sound file I can share with folks, and I can post that too.

I’ve also been working on the book and will post another excerpt tomorrow. Did somebody say something about summer vacation?

Mother Jones on the federal Healthy Marriage program: Thanks for nothing?

The age old relationship conundrum seems to be that if you were raised poor and out of wedlock (hey, that’s me), then it seems pretty likely that you’ll continue the cycle. Naturally, those of us who are products of either or both types of relationships don’t have to succumb to what our parents did or what our families once looked like. But if you don’t continue the cycle, it will be considered a miracle or a non-noteworthy accomplishment.

The point of the Healthy Marriage Initiative was to offer close to $100 million in federal funding to teach poor people how to be married so they would have better families and better lives, presumably. The only problem is that it doesn’t seem to be working. (Hat tip to Jezebel for this Mother Jones piece):

Launched during the Bush administration at the behest of evangelical Christian activists and with the aid of congressional Republicans, the federal Healthy Marriage Initiative was designed to help low-income couples put a little sizzle in their marriages and urge poor unmarried parents to tie the knot, in the hopes that marriage would enhance their finances and get them off the federal dole. Starting in 2006, millions of dollars were hastily distributed to grantees to further this poverty reduction strategy. The money went to such enterprises as “Laugh Your Way America,” a program run by a non-Spanish speaking Wisconsin minister who used federal dollars to offer ”Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” seminars to Latinos. It funded Rabbi Stephen Baars, a British rabbi who’d been giving his trademarked “Bliss” marriage seminars to upper-middle-class Jews in Montgomery County, Maryland, for years. With the help of the federal government, he brought his program to inner-city DC for the benefit of African American single moms.

The marriage money was diverted from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (formerly known as welfare), and much of it went to religious groups that went to work trying to combat the divorce rate in their communities by sponsoring date nights and romance workshops. In some cities, the local grantees used their federal funds to recruit professional athletes to make public service announcements touting the benefits of marriage. Women’s groups were especially critical of the marriage initiative, largely because it was the baby of Wade Horn, a controversial figure who Bush installed at HHS as the head of the Administration for Children and Families and the administration’s official “marriage czar.”

…Studies show that relationship classes can be helpful for white, middle-class couples, but when the federal government started dumping million of poverty dollars into marriage education, there was virtually no research on how such programs would fare with poor, inner-city single moms. Now, though, the data is in, and it doesn’t look good for proponents of taxpayer funded marriage education. This month, HHS released the results of several years of research about the performance of the marriage programs, and it indicates that the Bush-era effort to encourage Americans (straight ones, at least) to walk down the aisle has been a serious flop.

I have a few guesses about why this happened. As someone points out in the piece, if you don’t have the money to put a ring on it, you’re not likely to spend what little money you have on a relationship class. Also, relationships are hard work. Marriages are also extremely intense, from what I’ve heard. They need societal support to thrive – intact families beget intact families. And if you don’t own things, generally, there isn’t a huge cultural or even economic incentive for you to get married. I write a lot about women, obviously, so I’m talking about them mostly. But this also strikes me as being particularly true for men of color who are not wealthy or middle class.

Marie Claire on single women: “We’re living through the invention of independent female adulthood”

I’m late getting to this, but I thought I’d share this piece about the Single Girl trend by Rebecca Traister. I didn’t think she broke a lot of new ground here. But I did like that she stated plainly that we are currently “living through the invention of independent female adulthood”:

For legions of women, living single isn’t news, it’s life. You know, eating, sleeping, working, cleaning the refrigerator — just doing it all while not being married to a man. But to others, waking up in the morning husband-free seems to be some kind of affront. In March, Rush Limbaugh, fresh off his tirade against unmarried law student Sandra Fluke, laid into a 35-year-old female journalist, asking, “What is it with all these young, single white women?”

Limbaugh isn’t alone in his anxiety about maritally uncommitted broads. Comedian Steve Harvey has spent years urging successful black women to ratchet down their standards and just get married already, while Lori Gottlieb’s 2010 book, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, conveyed the same message to all professional women. Meanwhile, television writer Tracy McMillan’s viral blog post, “Why You’re Not Married,” now expanded into a book, makes Limbaugh sound downright chivalrous; her damning explanations for extended singlehood include “You’re a Bitch,” “You’re a Slut,” and “You’re Selfish.”

What exactly is so threatening about a woman without a ring on her finger? What’s she done to you? It’s not like a failure to marry by 30 is the end of the world.

Except that the world as we’ve known it for a very long time — one in which a woman’s value was tied to her role as a wife — is ending, right in front of us.

A recent Pew Research Center study found that barely half of American adults are married, a historic low. More striking: Only 20 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are hitched. It’s now standard for a woman to spend years on her own, learning, working, earning, socializing, having sex, and, yes, having babies in the manner she — and she alone — sees fit.

I would go further to say that as this traditional sense of women’s identity being tied to marriage and children ends, it’s effecting women from different cultural/racial/economic milieus differently and maybe not at all. As a black woman, societal expectation has almost always been that I would at least be a mother by the time I was out of my 20s, but not necessarily that I would get married. In fact, the opposite has become true, where people expect black women to be unmarried, childfree or not. So the rules are different depending on a number of factors, including class. But if we’re just talking about the traditional construct of white femininity, yes, that is shifting. It’s almost like middle and upper-class white women are now acting like women of color have been acting for decades, huh?

Wall Street Journal: Wait, you don’t have all this free time as a single person?

One thing that troubles me more than any other about the single life is the assumption that you just have all the free time in the world to do whatever you want. It’s supposed to be a kind way of saying, “I have to leave the office right this second because I have a family waiting on me, but since you don’t have a real life, I’ll just leave this work here for you to handle.”

I was happy to see this Wall Street Journal story about how much more time it seems to take being single than being in a committed partnership:

Much of the research on work-life conflict focuses on harried working mothers trying to juggle everything, desperate for more time, with lots of reasons to leave work early. But an even higher proportion of single women yearn for more free time; 68% of childless women say they would prefer having more time over more money, compared with 62% of women with children, according to a 2011 More magazine survey of 500 college-educated professional women over 34.
“People talk about, how do working mothers do it? But how do singles do it?” says Sherri Langburt, founder of SingleEditionMedia.com, a New York agency that advises brands on marketing to singles and runs a network for bloggers on singles topics.

Without a partner to help, singles must “get the laundry done, get to the gym, buy groceries and get to the job,” plus plan social activities or volunteer work and sometimes care for aging relatives, too.
“No one is focusing attention on those women or men, who are achieving such great levels in their careers, all alone,” Ms. Langburt says.

Many employers have added “work-life benefits,” such as flexible scheduling and personal time off, in an effort to keep all kinds of employees happy, with and without kids and spouses.
But the benefits only go so far. Heavy workloads keep many employees from using them. And for men and women alike, some managers still assume singles don’t have anything to do but work and pile on extra duties and projects, according to research by Wendy Casper, an associate professor of management at the University of Texas at Arlington.

It was a relief to read this. I have never worked as hard in my life as I did when I worked for someone else, in offices where other people had a better excuse to leave their desk at 5 p.m. than, “I need a nap because if I’m going to work on the myth of work-life balance, I won’t be able to go have my ‘Sex in the City’ networking happy hour speed-dating love fest after this AND make a healthy dinner for myself that isn’t from a box in the freezer.”

Top Posts in April: Standardized Tests, Recommended Reading & Single lady blogging

It turns out that even though I am not betrothed & I am a woman, I can still have a sense of humor. Welcome to my new followers/visitors from around the world. I’m humbled that you were entertained by some of my musings in April. It makes all of the pain of studying for the GRE totally worth it. Almost.

Here were some of the greatest hits this month:

Why Standardized Tests are a lot like being single

The New Yorker on why so many Americans are single

The Good Men Project on why dating bloggers (like me? I guess?) are single

Commenters go a little crazy over Staceyann Chin’s Guardian piece about lesbians who chase straight girls

I wrote a piece about a relationship that both broke my heart, ruined a nine-year friendship and taught me more than any other relationship I’d had up to that point for GOOD’s Dealbreaker series.

Teenage boys are waiting longer to have sex because they’re more romantic

Speaking of unexpected things that made me happy this weekend:

Why are boys behaving more “like girls” in terms of when they lose their virginity? In contrast to longstanding cultural tropes, there is reason to believe that teenage boys are becoming more careful and more romantic about their first sexual experiences.

That’s how sociologist Amy Schalet begins her sweet editorial about the new cultural tropes being rewritten by teen boys.  I learned about it over at Sociological Images. More from Schalet:

Today, though more than half of unmarried 18- and 19-year-olds have had sexual intercourse, fewer than 30 percent of 15- to 17-year-old boys and girls have, down from 50 percent of boys and 37 percent of girls in 1988. And there are virtually no gender differences in the timing of sexual initiation.

What happened in those two decades?

Fear seems to have played a role. In interviewing 10th graders for my book on teenage sexuality in the United States and the Netherlands, I found that American boys often said sex could end their life as they knew it. After a condom broke, one worried: “I could be screwed for the rest of my life.” Another boy said he did not want to have sex yet for fear of becoming a father before his time.

The rest of the editorial just made me beam with pride. I think each generation assumes that the one after it is going to hell in a handbasket. But to see that American boys, like Dutch boys, were not only afraid of the consequences of having sex before they might be ready but that they also were using really strong romantic language to discuss love was so refreshing. Maybe the kids are really alright.

Reads for the Weekend: Creative writing as therapy, Sinead O’Connor & Teju Cole on White Saviors

The phenomenal poet, Adrienne Rich, who died this week at age 82. I’m glad she was with us for as long as she was. I found her work to be tremendously beautiful and profound. I found this interview from 1994 on Tumblr:

Q: June Jordan has this great remark in one of her poems, “I lust for justice.” You have that, too. Where does it come from?

Rich: Sometimes I think it’s in all of us. It gets repressed. It gets squashed. Very often by fear. For me, I know it’s been pushed down by fear at various times.

Q: Fear of what?

Rich: Fear of punishment. Fear of reprisal. Fear of not being taken seriously. Fear of being marginalized. And that’s why I think it’s so difficult for people on their own and in isolated situations to be as brave as they can be because it’s by others’ example that we learn how to do this. I really believe that justice and creativity have something intrinsically in common. The effort to make justice and the creative impulse are deeply aligned, and when you feel the necessity of a creative life, of coming to use your own creativity, I think you also become aware of what’s lacking, that not everyone has this potentiality available to them, that it is being withheld from so many.

A great article in the New York Times last week about creative writing as therapy: “What matters is that she and her comrades have found a way to face the toughest truths within themselves, to begin to make sense of them, and maybe even beauty. In a world that feels increasingly impersonal and atomized, I can’t think of a more thrilling mission.”

Sinead O’Connor on Trayvon Martin, Racism & Popular Culture, (h/t Davey D.)

My heart goes out to the family of Rekia Boyd, a 22-year-old who was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer in Chicago.

I’m didn’t have a chance to read this lovely, important essay by Teju Cole when it was first published, but I urge you to read it. One of my favorite sentences: “Marginalized voices in America have fewer and fewer avenues to speak plainly about what they suffer; the effect of this enforced civility is that those voices are falsified or blocked entirely from the discourse.”

Lots to think about. Kind of a heavy week. Maybe this will lighten the mood: Gentlemen, a cocktail may inspire your creativity.

Kate Bolick on Single Women at The Hairpin

Kate Bolick, Lounging, from an Observer photographer.

This pair of interviews with Kate Bolick was published last fall, after her Atlantic cover story. I could relate to some of the things she mentioned in the email exchanges and wanted to post some of the interesting highlights here:

Should I talk way up at the start about how mine is NOT a story saying there are no good men left? I’m terrified of people reading it that way — when in fact the reality, as I see it, is much more subtle and complex. Statistics are indeed showing that more men are struggling now than in the past, which is a result of vast economic forces, as well as social ones (Christina Hoff Sommers wrote very presciently about “The War Against Boys” in 2000). And this is serious, and needs to be paid attention to.

I worry about this all the time, but I work hard to get that voice out of my head. It’s the voice of a very irritated man saying, “All you single women are the same. Just mad you’re single.” But I am fully aware that there are many good men in the world, they are just having a harder time than men used to have in social, economic and religious spheres. Here’s more:

 …the argument that there are fewer “marriageable” men than in the past relies on an archaic definition of “marriageable”: husbands who are higher-earning, better-educated, have more status, and are taller than their wives. (The “taller” thing keeps cropping up — just because it’s a very concrete and measurable thing.) The very good news for everyone is that women tend to be much more flexible in what they find attractive, so they’ll love and marry men in spite of any new so-called “failings.” And who knows — perhaps even prefer them? I for one have never been drawn to the “traditional” catch — the captain of the lacrosse team, etc. — but I know I’m weird like that.

Me, too, Kate! Me too. I am almost 6 feet tall myself, so statistically, that significantly cuts into the marriageable pool when height is involved. I have no problem dating shorties, but…depending on the man, this is an issue. (I don’t actually ever call them shorties aloud, by the way. I realize how demeaning and self-sabotaging that would be in the dating arena.)

Seriously, I thought that what Bolick wrote here about the inferiority complexes of men is pretty central to part of the shift we’re seeing:

A darker aspect is that this new power balance/imbalance means men are having to grapple with feelings of inferiority that they’re not quite accustomed to, and this can be hard on couples, particularly in a world that almost presumes women will have inferiority complexes.

If women believe and think they’re powerful, basically, and men think that they’re useless, our world starts to look a whole lot more matriarchal than ever before. It would be hasty to say that we’re on a fast train headed in that direction, considering the male-female wage gap and the lopsided gender make-up of politics, corporations and decision-makers in pretty much every significant sphere in American life. But we are in the midst of dealing with some significant changes that have deep emotional ramifications.This is true even if we don’t think we’ll be married — the inferiority thing shifts even how we relate as men and women to each other in workplaces, in sacred spaces and as friends.

I love that in the second part of the interview, Bolick talks a little bit more about what she would have added to the piece, which she wrote in a little over a week after six weeks of research. She also goes on to say that one of the critiques of her work was that she didn’t say anything new, but the truth is that she elevated a conversation that needed to be addressed in a different way. She talks about the need for “relationship ed” or ways to educate our ourselves about how to navigate these new social changes that are underway, which sounds like a fabulous idea. And then she says something that I could completely relate to, when she talked about wanting to marry someone who shares her values:

“Values” is a loaded word, isn’t it? I just meant a guy who sees the world similarly to how I do, who prizes things like honesty and communication and absurdity and new experiences.

But here’s the thing: I never once say in the piece that I never want to get married! I’m not against marriage. I’m just against its being our only and highest ideal. Our public rhetoric and internal monologues need to catch up to the on-the-ground fact that more and more of us are getting married later, or are creating “alternative” lifestyles, or are getting married and then getting divorced, and therefore spending a much longer period of time single than ever before. So how do we create a conversation that reflects and speaks to this new world we’re already living in?

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