i have some issues with this

A fellow sociologist has published this op-ed in the Washington Post. It makes the case for marrying young. I have nothing against marrying young. But I do have some issues with the argument. It begins,

The average age of American men marrying for the first time is now 28. That’s up five full years since 1970 and the oldest averagesince the Census Bureau started keeping track. If men weren’t pulling women along with them on this upward swing, I wouldn’t be complaining. But women are now taking that first plunge into matrimony at an older age as well.

We might wonder, what is the problem with women marrying older? The problem, it seems, is that women are experiencing peer pressure into doing so [or actually, parental pressure]. It’s not that they don’t want to get married at a younger age; they do! But “society” makes them feel guilty for jumping in too quickly. So they go on twitter and facebook instead of looking for a mate. We are doing these women a disservice because, “marriage wisely entered into remains good for the economy and the community, good for one’s personal well-being, good for wealth creation and, yes, good for the environment, too.”

The burden that we have placed upon women, it seems, is an emotional and biological one (women are, after all, finely attuned to their emotions and their biology – so this really matters). You see, the older women get the less attractive they are to men (a sad but true universal finding), and after delaying fertility in their 20s they realize that they have “to beg, pray, borrow and pay to reclaim it in their 30s and 40s”.

It is, after all, “good social science” to pay attention to these “gender differences.” This good social sciences helps us realize that,

There is a wisdom in having an age gap between spouses. For women, age is (unfortunately) a debit, decreasing fertility. For men, age can be a credit, increasing their access to resources and improving their maturity, thus making them more attractive to women. We may all dislike this scenario, but we can’t will it away. [We can, however, will away the observation that marrying young is the top predictor of divorce].

What have we learned? That women are emotional beings bound by biology and objects of desirability of men. Men, by contrast, need to get good jobs. That may take a while. So men can and should be older than women (they work; women provide childen). “Society” does a disservice to men and women by encouraging them to marry older. You see, people should be married at younger ages because, “Marriage actually works best as a formative institution, not an institution you enter once you think you’re fully formed.”

This has all become very confusing. Apparently women can enter marriage earlier because they’re formed earlier; men are formed later. But marriage itself is not for people how are already formed. I’m lost.

11 Comments

  1. Posted April 28, 2009 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    I also noticed that many of his listed benefits of marriage are really just benefits of living with another person. Last I checked, you don’t have to marry your roommates.

    And then there’s the whole matter of fertility and marriage being talked about as if one depended upon the other.

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  2. Posted April 29, 2009 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    I’m definitely not a quant person, so please someone feel free to set me right if I’m misunderstanding basic demography here but…

    The author states that “Marriage will be there for men when they’re ready” but women who similarly put off marriage are doomed to spinsterhood because its supposedly an objective universal fact that older women just get less attractive, while men get more so. Okay, lots of problems with this argument…but it seems like there’s also a major weakness in the area of basic math.

    The percentage of men and women in the general population is roughly 50/50, and, while men do tend to die a little younger than women, in the cohort of people between 20-40 the ratio of men to women is pretty close to 1/1. Right??? SOME women in their 20s and 30s pass up guys their own age to date much older men (who spent their youth playing the field) but MOST women in their 20s date men in their 20s and so on….. In fact, the author acknowledges this. He notes that the age differential between men and women is shrinking. Ergo, there’s roughly one woman for every man** in the general population and most people choose a partner their own age.

    Therefore, that huge glut of men that waited until they were in their mid-forties or later to settle down and then go looking for “fertile women” in their late 20s early 30s will either meet with disappointment–and themselves be doomed to a life of unhappy bachelorhood–or will just have to “settle” (god forbid) for a woman his own age. Sure some of these dudes, (the very good looking, smart or successful) might snag the younger “trophy wife” but most will lose out to their single 20/30 something male competitors.

    How can “every man will have a wife, but all you girls who waited too long will die alone” even be demographically possible? Where are all of these extra women supposed to be coming from??

    ** I’m assuming that similar proportions of men and women are gay (i.e. that there aren’t so many more gay men than lesbians that it throws off the gender balance in the hetero dating pool to the extent that there are multiple single straight women for every single straight dude.)

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  3. Posted April 29, 2009 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    Ohhh joy. This article reminds me of the fantastic article by “evolutionary psychologist” Satoshi Kanazawa wherein he, a “scientific fundamentalist” and apparently esteemed scholar, argues that we should:

    “Forget what feminists, hippies, and liberals have told you in the last half century. They are all lies based on political ideology and conviction, not on science. Contrary to what they may have told you, it is very unlikely that money, promotions, the corner office, social status, and political power will make women happy. Similarly, it is very unlikely that quitting their jobs, dropping out of the rat race, and becoming stay-at-home dads to spend all their times with their children will make men happy. Money, promotions, the corner office, social status, and political power are what make men happy (as long as they win, of course, but then dropping out is by definition a defeat). Spending time with their children is what makes women happy.”

    Seriously, I invite you fine folks to scroll through his blog. It’s, ahem, entertaining. Like the article Shakha quotes above, it would be insulting if it weren’t so ridiculous.

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  4. Posted April 29, 2009 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    Do you think the point is pronatalism? If you want more babies, you do have to start younger. Wide age gaps are associated with greater male-dominance in marriages.[clicks over to read the op-ed] Your summary gave more of a boost to the idea of encouraging wider age differences (older men marrying younger women) than his piece does.

    What struck me in his piece when I read it (quickly) was his emphasis on social pressure to get advanced degrees, which is relevant to only one segment of the population. Overall, the essay does not seem well thought-through, and you identify only some of the inconsistencies.

    Given that he takes a personal turn toward the end (marrying at 22), I’d guess that he thinks the main point is to argue against the parents who try to discourage their children from forming stable love relations while young. My own experience actually mirrors his at least in part, so I share some of his bias. I got married when I was 20, between my junior and senior years of college, and my spouse and I did basically finish growing up together. It was a good experience, and I would not discourage people from marrying young, if they have the right person. That’s a big if, of course. And I did not have my first child until I was 33 and my spouse was not much older than I was, so we were not tied down with babies while I did graduate school and early assistant professoring.

    But I think he is not paying attention to the real issues. I remember learning in college that the Irish did not marry until really late — well into their thirties — because they could not marry until they could establish a home, and the older generation would not relinquish the farms. Our culture, too, says you should not marry unless you can support yourself. We have no customs of parents providing financial support for married children. In fact, a lot of our social rules go the other way. Adult offspring can get health insurance through their parents, but only if they stay in school and remain unmarried. The cultural stuff (play around when you are young, don’t settle down) is following the structural stuff (extended periods of education, unstable employment among young adults, inability to establish a stable economic base).

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  5. Posted April 29, 2009 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    In general the sloppy logic suggests it’s a moral argument, not a scientific one. It’s a lecture and it’s aimed at women: stop being so picky and settle down while you’re still pretty or else you’ll be left on the shelf.

    We’ve been reading this same editorial, in different forms, since women started entering higher education and the professions. All that distinguishes this particular “spinster panic” article from any of the one’s you’d find in periodicals from the late 1800s is its lack of focus on the scourge of “womb atrophy” among bookish females.

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  6. yyyikes
    Posted April 29, 2009 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    In addition to the local concentrations of male shortage (having to do with unemployment, incarceration, and mortality), women in the baby boomlet were disadvantaged by the age gap norm when there were a smaller number of men a few years older than them. These imbalances do add up.

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  7. Posted April 29, 2009 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Maybe the author should stick to his day job of “map[ping] trends”

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  8. Posted April 29, 2009 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I am all for more accurate information about fertility declines getting to both men and women as they plan out their careers and families. Although Regnerus repeats the myth that men’s fertility does not decline, this is inaccurate, and many women are similarly misinformed about the age at which their fertility declines. That said, this piece ignores the structural factors pushing age of first marriage up and implies (as usual) that women are just being selfish. Lame.

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  9. Posted April 29, 2009 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    @6- Imprisonment is definitely an issue in some populations, but unemployment doesn’t take men out of the dating pool (anymore than it takes women out of the dating pool.) I myself dated a fine gentleman for awhile who was unemployed and living off a severance package.

    According to the 2000 Census, until the age of 34, there are actually more men than women in each cohort (mortality among young men has been dropping dramatically and/or that among young women is catching up,) The male-female gender ratio for the 25-34 age cohort is 101.8 (in favor of men.) In the 35-44 cohort it does begin to drop (to 98.9.) By one’s 70s and 80s the male/female imbalance is pretty extreme…but then again, 80 year olds from the 2000 Census are also a cohort that went through several major wars. Who knows what it’ll look like when we hit retirement.

    Sure, once you get into your forties there are slightly more men than women, but the author’s assertion that men who delay marriage but still want families will be fine (because they’ll somehow all scoop fertile 20-30 year old women out of those relatively male-heavy age cohorts) doesn’t hold up.

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  10. sherkat
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    These are religious prescriptions for patriarchy disguised as sociology then inserted into the public sphere to justify styles of relationships that are harmful to women, children, and ultimately to everyone. I’m very disappointed to see this, though I am no longer surprised.

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  11. ellen3b
    Posted May 3, 2009 at 2:09 am | Permalink

    I have to wonder why he cares. Is educated spinsterhood going to be a huge social problem? Is he worried that the human race will die out? Or is he just really concerned about the extra BTU’s? Or is he so altruistic that he is simply concerned about me dying alone with my student loan debt? Aww, Isn’t he thoughtful.

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  1. [...] this erupted in the sociological blogosphere, specifically on Scatterplot. Shakha writes on Scatterplot, What have we learned? That women are emotional beings bound by [...]

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