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.

Cohabitation before marriage is a disaster, study says

Living with the love of your life may not be the best idea if you’re trying to get hitched.

A couple of months ago, the Journal of Family Psychology detailed a study about cohabitation before marriage (h/t The Awl ) and this is what the site LiveScience wrote about it:

Quickly moving in with your honey may be the kiss of death for some couples. New research indicates that couples who move in together before they get engaged or married are less happy and less likely to stay together than couples who wait.

The researchers contend that couples who eventually get married after living together are armed with a double dose of arguments — those from the early relationship (like jealousy) and from the marriage (household chores and bills) — that eventually can tank the relationship.

“In lots of ways, moving in together makes sense; why wouldn’t you want to live together and test it out? But the process to test makes it harder to end the relationship,” which in turn makes it more likely that the unenthusiastic couple will just slide into an unhappy marriage, study researcher Galena Rhoades of the University of Denver told LiveScience. “We need to find some ways that couples can have that test without making it harder to break up.”

I know from personal experience that testing the waters of something like marriage that really isn’t can be catastrophic. But again, I wonder how many of the more than 1,200 couples surveyed were people of color. I also wonder how many of them are privileged enough to live on their own if their relationships don’t work out. As we all know, the wedding/marriage industry in this country is off the hook expensive, but then, so is courtship. Conservative Christians: 1, Secular paramours: 0.

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?

I am not auditioning to be your wife & a counter to Tracy McMillan

Before dream hampton left Twitter, she dropped a couple of gems that stayed with me. The first was, and I’m paraphrasing, but it was the equivalent of:  Men on Twitter need to stop acting like we’re auditioning to be somebody’s girl.

Not that Bey had to audition for anything. She might’ve been married at this point.

Yes, I thought. And this is true in online spaces, generally. There is a line between appreciating a woman in cyberspace, just like in real life, and offering up what hampton brilliantly calls “intimate kites” on a regular basis.

When you are uncoupled and you write candidly about your experience, it opens you up to a lot of wonderful and a lot of weird.

Wonderful, because it is possible to have extensive, consistent and creative community with a larger number of people, not just the person you’re in a couple with. Weird because the Internet is as vast as the globe, and there are a lot of lonely people in it, seeking some kind of connection, wondering if your vulnerability and openness can help them fill a space that nothing else will (or has).

This idea that women in general, black women especially or even people in general who aren’t in relationships are essentially waiting to be chosen is infuriating. It presumes that the main value of your singledom is that it serves as a kind of purgatory between when you were born and when you’ll be in the safe container of a relationship. Gone are any real, thoughtful reflections of the fact that many of the mystics, prophets and great spiritual leaders of our time have not been in couples. Biblically, we can start with Jesus and add Paul. Beyond them, we can talk about Buddha and even the singular avatars of Hindu, Yoruban and other gods and goddesses.

But whatever single women do in real life or online is often viewed as performance. Because of the real and problematic history of black women in America, this is especially true for black women. Add to that the problematic side effect of reality television and media oversaturation and you have a recipe for people taking for granted the presence of women in their real or virtual space. They also take for granted that black women exist as avatars of entertainment, whether they are referring to black women who are real black women or representations of black women as characters (say, when someone like Tyler Perry acts as Madea).

Men make gestures. They are or are not prince charmings. End of line.

Women, though, audition. They are fighting over men that they’ve longed divorced, or they are fighting over men that they intend to marry, or they are fighting over men because it is considered hot to be attractive and well-dressed and fight over a man, whether they want him or not.

They might be waiting to get chosen. Or waiting for a meal.

It is a way of transposing passion for chaos, the most awkward way for us to ask another to love us. “Look at how much I love you! I was willing to pull that girl’s weave out. On TV.”

Anyway, I was reminded of this dynamic while I was thinking about Samhita Mukhopadhyay’s great book, Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life, which I highly recommended. She wrote a fantastic piece, by the way, posted on Jezebel today: Ten Very Good Reasons You’re Not Married Yet. I bet this part will resonate for those of us who are not auditioning for marriage:

6. You’ve got a life and friends that you are happy with.

If a dude shows up that’s cool, but you are not sweating it because every day is an awesome new adventure full of phone calls from loved ones, cupcakes, yoga classes and dance parties. You enjoy each minute, focus on the positive and when you are down (a symptom of life, not just single life) you have 500 friends to call, because you have spent time on all types of relationships, not just the kind that will lead to marriage. Friendship-the realest investment a lady can make.

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.”

Rihanna on being single: “There’s a major drought out there.”

Elle Magazine Photo

I am fascinated by Rihanna, probably because it’s been amazing to see her career move from Pon de Replay (Ugh) to Cake, which I would love to stop singing.

You’ve probably seen a few opinions about Rihanna on the interwebs in recent days. Here’s my two cents: She is grown. And she can do what she wants. Know how I know? She mentioned it in this Elle Magazine piece.

On the backlash over their reconciliation:
“The bottom line is that everyone thinks differently. It’s very hard for me to accept, but I get it. People end up wasting their time on the blogs or whatever, ranting away, and that’s all right. Because tomorrow I’m still going to be the same person. I’m still going to do what I want to do.”

On having kids: “It could be tomorrow. It could be 20 years from now. I just feel like when the time is right, God will send me a little angel. But first, of course, I have to find a man. I mean, there’s a very important missing piece to the puzzle here!”

On finding that man:
“I feel like it’s hard for everybody! I don’t think it has anything to do with being famous. There’s just a major drought out there. […] But I just need to find the person who balances me out, because then things like my schedule won’t matter. I’ve done it before, so I know I can do it again.”

This whole drought thing, and the idea that there’s a shortage,  is a really annoying part of being single. The concept has plagued me since I was a teenager, when I was told there were a shortage of black men who’d want to date me because I dreamed of being a college professor.

It happened again when I found myself at a liberal arts college where the male to female ratio was 40/60 – and the ratio of men of color to women of color was far more severe.

The idea that there is a man shortage is a pervasive and problematic one. It rarely leads to women’s happiness, I’ve noticed. Anyone who tells you there’s a man shortage or a woman shortage or any kind of shortage of anything typically is missing a lot of potential options either close to home or further away.

I say this from experience. Back when I believed the hype about a shortage of black men or available men to date, I made really lousy choices that reinforced that I believed I would be happier as part of a toxic couple than as a content single woman. I continue to work to expand my sense of what’s possible in my life and in my work, and as I’ve done that, it’s helped me to diminish the idea that I need to latch on to anything — relationships, ideas, possessions — in order to keep from going without.

I work really hard not to judge people – you never know what happens when the cameras are off. Rihanna and Chris Brown are no exception to the rule. But I do wonder if Rihanna didn’t think there was such a shortage of men out there if she wouldn’t make a different, healthier choice.

Ebony Magazine on being Single, Saved & Having Sex

Let me not cast any stones, not even the first one. But ranting online this morning about the ways that the discussion of Barack Obama’s changed stance on same sex marriage has cast the Black Church and the Black Community as a monolith nearly clarified for me what I find annoying about discussions related to black everything in popular culture.

If the community is still a monolith (which it isn’t) then no one has to do the work of finding out just how diverse the individuals who make up said community are. It is a way of denying their humanity – collectively and individually.

That said, I’m not saying that there aren’t a lot of Christians who do things that aren’t Biblical. But this is a false conundrum because having sex as a single person if you’re saved is explicitly a no-no for Christians. But so is judging others. And not tithing. And a host of other ugly things that folks have no trouble doing.

Ebony spells it out:

Many Christian youths who signed abstinence pledges or wore purity rings reach a crossroad as young adults. They are faced with upholding Biblical principles against sex outside of marriage during an era when the average age of first marriage creeps toward 30. Celibacy may be even tougher for singles who have splashed around in the pool of fornication long before dedicating their lives to Christ. More are asking, “Am I really condemning my soul to eternal damnation by getting my freak on Saturday night and praising the Lord on Sunday morning?” As many as 80 percent of young unmarried Christians have had sex, according to Relevant, a magazine for Christians aged 18 to 30.

So, let’s do some quick math, because you know — that’s my favorite subject.

One hundred million unmarried people. About 12 percent of those are black folks. So, about 10 million black people, let’s say. Eighty-five percent of them identify as Christian. Less than 50 percent are married. What’s that – about 2 million, give or take? (That’s a low estimate. From a journalist. Who doesn’t really like math and never took statistics.)

I guess I wonder about the voices of the single and celibate who aren’t sure they even want to get married. Because if you’re not sure that God is calling you to get married, that seems about as plausible as declaring yourself a practicing and devout Christian and saying you think it’s cool with Jesus if you just let this one thing slip, right? I mean, what is the point of going all in if you’re not really going all in? (I did not mean that as a pun.)

And another thing. Sex is at the heart of so much shame in the black community. Part of the reason that’s the case is because of the shaming of churches around pervasive behavior. You know there are women getting infected with HIV/AIDS in your pews, on your watch, and all you can do is gesture in the direction of what the Bible says? The Bible also says a lot of things that people forget about when it is convenient for them.

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