SHOULD SINGLE WOMEN STAY SINGLE?
Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director
of the United Nations Population Division. This article is reprinted
with permission from YaleGlobal Online www.yaleglobal.yale.edu
Evidence concerning the state of marriage strongly suggests that
women should give serious thought before making the momentous
commitment to tie the knot – and demographic trends are
making such a pause easier to do.
wage gap: Median earnings of women remain low relative to that
of men in part due to slow wage growth. A number of studies report
that single women tend to be healthier and less depressed, living
longer than married women. Single women generally experience fewer
stresses and compromises than married women. Furthermore, single
women feel more empowered, enjoying greater personal autonomy
and freedoms than married women largely because they don’t
juggle challenging multiple roles at work and home.
are generally less happy than single women, with many resentful
of being married to the wrong man. Consequently, large numbers
of marriages, estimated at no less than half in France, Russia
and the United States end in divorce or separation. Women are
far more likely to file for divorce and report feeling happier
after ending their marriages. Such unhappiness is not limited
to women married to men – women married to other women are
more likely to divorce than married male same-sex couples. Women
have higher expectations of marriage than men and higher demands
for meaningful communication and relationship quality, especially
with regard to affection and intimacy.
concern is the matter of sexual relations. Wives often complain
that husbands want sex with little attention to other needs. This
concern is exacerbated by the traditional view still held by many
that marriage implies automatic conjugal rights, with husbands
entitled to intimacy any time and wives duty bound to oblige.
work can include housework, childcare, shopping and more. Women’s
expectations of marriage can be hard to satisfy, increasing the
risk of disappointment and questions about whether marriage was
the right decision. In many instances, husbands are unaware of
wives’ dissatisfaction. Consequently, husbands are more
likely than wives to be surprised by requests for divorce or separation.
both husbands and wives work outside the home. However, wives
also generally manage the house, organize children’s lives
and provide care to aging parents. Despite limited progress in
the sharing of domestic and familial responsibilities, the wife,
even when employed, is still viewed as the homemaker, primary
parent and principal caregiver.
societies, especially throughout most of Asia, marriage and family
roles are a bundled package, especially for women. In general,
marriage, rearing children and caring for elderly parents are
linked. Once a woman marries, she is expected to put aside her
personal goals to prioritize family responsibilities. Given those
normative expectations, growing numbers of women reject the package
and decide to stay single. Consequently, more women marry later
or not all. In Japan, for example, one in seven women were unmarried
by age 50 in 2015, more than four times the level in 1970. In
South Korea the proportion never married among women aged 30 to
34 years, 1.4 percent in 1970, reached nearly 30 percent by 2010.
Similarly in China, 30 percent of urban women are single in their
late 20s, as compared to less than 5 percent in 1970.
countries, especially those in the West, have banned discrimination
against women and promote policies of gender equality. However,
most married women continue to make compromises in their professional
ambitions and personal lives. And on average, married women do
more of the housework than women in cohabiting relationships with
women spend far more time than men on unpaid work, including housework,
child and adult care, shopping and volunteering. Even among Scandinavian
countries where the participation of men in unpaid work is comparatively
high at about three hours per day, women still spend more time
on those activities. The lowest levels for men’s participation
in unpaid work, less than an hour per day, are observed in India,
Japan and South Korea.
study in the United States found that mothers with a husband or
live-in male partner sleep less and do more housework than single
mothers. Why mothers do more housework when there’s a man
in the household was not determined. Another study reported that
husbands create about seven hours of extra housework a week for
women are not prepared to return to the matrimonial inequalities
of the past where husband were household heads, controlling the
finances and property and expecting wives to love, honour and
obey on his terms. Having gained legal and economic rights in
marriage, most women expect to be equal partners within a marriage
as well as in divorce or separation. Women are increasingly educated,
more economically independent, gaining more opportunities outside
marriage and embracing freedom. All these factors contribute to
single women capable of maintaining a stable financial life.
husbands have not demonstrated willingness to increase their relatively
low contributions to housework and childcare. In addition, many
men, particularly in traditional settings, do not want to marry
women who are equals or earn more money than they do. Consequently,
as women make gains, many no longer view marriage as an attractive
option and stay single longer than in the past.
OECD members, female mean ages at first marriage are well above
27 years in virtually all countries and exceed 30 years in most.
One of the largest increases between 1990 and 2017 took place
in Hungary, where the mean age of first marriages for women jumped
from 22 to 30 years.
people try alternatives to marriage. While marriage poses negative
effects on women’s health and longevity, dog ownership provides
benefits for men and women, such as lower blood pressure and reduced
cholesterol. Dogs readily express appreciation and provide nonjudgmental
companionship. They are comparatively easy to train and don’t
come with in-laws.
historically had little choice in the matter of marriage. Remaining
single conflicted with pervasive sociocultural norms and resulted
in considerable social pressures to marry. The social stigma of
remaining single for women was reflected in terms such as old
maid, spinster, vieille fille, alte Junger, solterona, zitelle,
sheng nu, Christmas cake and leftover. Significantly, families
and society have long regarded husbands, earning a paycheck and
controlling distribution, as providing financial security for
women face considerably less social and economic pressure to marry
than in earlier periods. Article 16 of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights establishes the right of both women and men to
make their own decisions, freely and with full consent, whether
to marry. Nevertheless,
forced marriage of women and even girls continues in many countries,
especially in Africa and Asia. Worldwide it is estimated that
millions of girls and young women are married against their will
before age 18 years. In 42 countries one third of girls are forced
into child marriages. In addition to the traditional ideals of
honour, shame and avoidance of sexual activity outside marriage,
poverty is a major reason why parents force young daughters into
marriage. By some estimates, from romance with little or no access
to a suitable sexual partner, resulting in bitterness, misogyny
and in some cases violence.
greater gender equality, expanding opportunities for women and
increasing individualism, women are more deliberate on making
fateful decisions about marriage, with more deciding to remain
single.as many of half of the world’s marriages are arranged,
a term open to interpretation.
an unintended consequence of women’s independence, delayed
marriage and increased singlehood is the rise of ‘incels,’
or the involuntarily celibate movement. Growing numbers of young
men feel excluded.
© YaleGlobal Online www.yaleglobal.yale.edu
by Joseph Chamie
Genitalia and the Gender Revolution