This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Single by Choice in America: Women in Transition

Marriage has been in steady decline in the U.S., following a trend set earlier in Europe. This obviously affects both men and women, but the change for women is most dramatic, because "tradition" dictates that women should be married (and at a young age, for that matter), whereas men have more options on that score. A few days ago, NPR aired an interview with Rebecca Traister, author of a new book titled All the Single Ladies.  Here's the premise:
Marriage is losing ground in America. According to the U.S. Census, the proportion of married adults dropped from 57 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2009. For the first time ever, single adult women outnumber married adult women in the U.S.
Rebecca Traister says the declining marriage rates among adult women are less about the institution of marriage and more about the choices available to women today.
"The choice not to marry isn't necessarily a conscious rejection of marriage," Traister tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "It is [about] the ability to live singly if an appealing marriage option doesn't come along."
In her new book, All the Single Ladies, Traister draws on historical research, interviews with about 100 women and her own experience to examine how delaying or abstaining from marriage affects women's lives. She notes that the shift allows women to build up "our economic and professional bases," which can result in greater autonomy and a more equitable distribution of domestic work in marriage.
If you follow that link to the numbers from the Census Bureau, you actually are taken to a Population Reference Bureau Report by Mark Mather and Diana Lavery. I blogged about it when it came out back in 2010, because it was (and still is) an important story, and it appears that the PRB report inspired Traister's book (good going, PRB!). 

The numbers reported in the NPR interview all take us back to 2009, so I went to IPUMS.org to download the latest ACS data (2014) to see where we stand now. The PRB noted that in 2009 the proportion married among women aged 25-34 had dropped below 50% (49.9%) for the first time in recorded history. The downward trend has continued--it was 46.3% in 2014.

The PRB report also quoted Andrew Cherlin (of Johns Hopkins University, and a Past President of the Population Association of America) in making the argument that almost all women (about 90%) will, in fact, eventually marry. Data from the 2014 ACS suggest that this might be on decline, at least by a bit. Almost 14% of women in the U.S. at age 50 report that they have never been married as of 2014. Even at age 58, it is still above 10%, so it is possible that we will see a growing number of never-married baby boomer women moving into the older ages in the near future.

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