Many women aren't bidding adieu to `I do'

June 06, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER | SUSAN REIMER,SUN COLUMNIST

Twenty years ago, Newsweek magazine wrote about marriage in America, producing one of the most notorious conclusions in all of human relations.

While predicting that a college-educated woman who had not married in her 20s faced dwindling chances of ever getting hitched, the magazine stated that a 40-year-old woman was more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to marry.

It was hyperbole - exaggeration for the sake of humor or to make a point - and in re-examining marriage in a recent issue, the magazine apologized for a silly and tasteless remark that has had a painful echo since 9/11.

All these years later, that throwaway line appears to be inaccurate as well. Today it appears about 90 percent of boomers have married or will marry, according to new reporting in the magazine.

It was an unusual mea culpa for a news organization, and it comes at a time when marriage in America is again under the microscope.

Teens aren't waiting for marriage before they have sex - or babies. Twentysomething and thirtysomething women are choosing to start families without husbands.

And scientists can demonstrate the benefits of marriage on a man's health and mental well-being.

Meanwhile, gay men and lesbian women are struggling mightily to have their unions sanctified as marriage.

All of this plays against the backdrop of an administration that is promoting marriage for righteousness' sake.

Never before has getting married - something that was long considered a natural next step in the process of growing up - been under such heavy scrutiny.

It is as if sociologists, the medical profession and the federal government suddenly took an interest in the long-term impact of getting braces or a driver's license.

Newsweek caught up with 11 of the 14 single women it profiled 20 years ago and found that eight of them eventually married, and none are divorced.

Their conclusions seem to be that family - even if family is only a mate - trumps the satisfactions of work or the joys of personal freedom that they talked of so enthusiastically about two decades ago.

There is more good news for the institution of marriage.

Women are waiting longer to marry while they pursue college or advanced degrees. But they are still getting married - actually, they are more likely to marry - putting lie to the notion of 20 years ago that educated women may be overqualified for marriage.

The flip side of this, of course, is that there are more economic and career issues for a couple to negotiate, but it looks like they will have the brains to get it done.

The bad news is, it is the educated classes - the middle and upper classes - who are reaping the health, financial and child-rearing rewards of marriage while the poor, who are less likely to marry and more likely to have children outside of marriage, are not, Newsweek pointed out.

As if the poor and disenfranchised in this country do not lose out in enough ways, they are eschewing the apparent advantages of a walk down the aisle.

All these years after the Newsweek headlines, marriage has changed from a fading cultural institution to a significant economic advantage.

But one with a price tag.

Recent news reports place the average cost of a wedding at $28,000. I guess it is an investment in the future in more ways than one.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

To hear audio clips of selected Susan Reimer columns, go to baltimoresun.com/reimer.

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