Marriage Is Not A Competition

Why does the media insist on turning recent marriage and childbirth data into a competition between men and women?

It seems that my lady friend has higher class ambitions than I ever dared to guess. We met at the embarrassingly old age of 24, and three years later she has asked me to wait before inquiring with her father as to her dowry and betrothal. Thankfully, as my 30s loom, synopses from esteemed periodicals, the New York Times and The Atlantic, regarding the report “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America” are cluing gentlemen such as myself in on the fact that our lady friends are climbing the social-economic ladder.

These synopses lay out a “good for women, bad for men” summary but claim otherwise. Don’t be fooled by the ruse. If you thought the gender wars were over and won, you have been mistaken. While men, myself included, have been sitting back and indulging the fairer sex by marrying later and encouraging them to speak in public, they have taken the war underground. Likewise, the authors of the synopses, Eleanor Barkhorn and Ross Douthat, masterfully counter with their own subterfuge and misdirection.

Financially, men of all education levels benefit from marrying earlier,” Barkhorn writes in The Atlantic, her bold use of bold italics ensuring that I understand how dire the situation is for me as an old man. Women are benefiting from all those years of being single after coming of age and their benefits are being taken directly from the wallets of men! If men do not start pushing back the matrimonial clock toward an appropriate age (say 13?), we will certainly face the decline of our estates, perhaps even the loss of our God-given titles.

Surely, that is laughable, I hear you protest, ladies holding land and parading about as lords. Rightly you anticipate the graph that tempers the frightful words of Ms. Barkhorn, which shows that university educated men, your beloved author included, actually benefit well into our twilight years of 27-29 by delaying marriage.

All sarcasm aside, now that you’re looking at the graphs, you may have noticed that they appear a little skewed. Everyone married below 20 is lumped together and so is everyone above 30. However, the single decade between 20 and 29 is broken down into three separate groups. What appears visually to be a comparison between many different age ranges is really just a comparison between men above 30 and men below 30.

Since it’s still “normal” (that being a relative term) in our society for both men and women to get married before 30, the data shows something less scandalizing than the New York Times or The Atlantic would lead you to believe. The data indicates that men who accede to the system are more successful, while women who want to be financially successful must continue to fight against cultural norms. By itself, this is nothing new at all as until relatively recently, Western society has emphatically pushed men out to be breadwinners and pushed women to stay in the home. Even though the average age of marriage for men and women has risen, the path to success for men still requires them to “go with the flow,” while women must continue to swim against the current.

I’m not arguing against “Knot Yet” as a study. Fantastic and extremely detailed, the study connects many disparate data sets beyond marriage age and income, including cohabitation rates, divorce rates, alcohol consumption, and the median ages that women are having their first children. The problem is that the media still frames this data as a competition between men and women.

“Obviously people don’t generally game out their romantic life,” Ross Douthat admits in the New York Times, just before contradicting himself. “But that’s part of the point: The longer the road from sexual maturity to marriage, the more complicated the underlying cost-benefit calculus in any given relationship becomes.”

If you’re approaching any relationship as calculus, I can’t identify with you, and I suspect the average reader can’t either. That approach is as dated as the Victorian era and is likely to have the same success rate as any other Victorian approaches to dating.

As far as I’m concerned, the only math involved in a relationship is: you + your partner = better together. If an integral part of that equation is whether or not the man is the main breadwinner, then things probably aren’t adding up correctly.

John Dwyer is a now a writer in Washington, DC after spending two years teaching English with Peace Corps Mongolia. Contact him through email: john.christian.dwyer [at] gmail [dot] com, Google+, or on Twitter: @JohnCDwyer

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