Changes in Women and Marriage



 This paper presents an in-depth discussion about the changing 
relationship between women and marriage. Economic factors, a rise in 
feminism, parents' influence, attitudes about sex, educational 
pursuits, and divorce statistics are discussed and their influence on 
women's attitudes toward marriage are explored. Cultural changes that 
have impacted women's lives are also examined. The purpose of the 
paper is to explore the changes affecting women, their attitudes 
toward marriage, and their expectations of marriage. This paper will 
primarily concentrate on the question of why women delay marriage. The 
sources used to develop this paper are published journals, the text 
for this course along with other books related to this issue, and the 

The Changing Relationship Between Women and Marriage

 Over the past four decades there has been substantial changes 
in the attitudes toward marriage among women in the United States. 
These attitudes relate to gender roles and social changes in today's 
society and have contributed to women marrying later than their 
ancestors married. Studies show American women are waiting longer
than ever to get married. Their median age at first marriage hit a 
record high of 24.5 years in 1994, up from 20 years in the mid 1950's 
(Crispell, 1996). That's the oldest age since the Census Bureau 
started to ask about age at marriage in 1890. Of course postponing 
marriage means an increase, at any given time, in the number of people
who have never wed, and that is also reflected in the census study. 
From 1970 to 1994 the number of Americans aged 18 and over who never 
married more than doubled from 21.4 million to 44.2 million. 
Additionally, women may be less likely to marry in the future. 
Projections show the proportion of never married women increasing 
between 1992 and 2010 for all age groups under 55 (Crispell).
 According to Allen & Kalish (1984), the timing of a first 
marriage is related to the attractiveness of the alternatives to 
marrying. When women value roles that provide viable alternatives to 
the role of wife, they delay marriage. The role of women has undergone 
significant transformation brought about by changes in society. 
Today's families are smaller and live longer, thereby allowing women 
to devote a smaller part of their lives to raising children than was 
the case in earlier times (Allen & Kalish). Thus, more time is left 
for other pursuits. A woman who enters her first marriage at an older 
age is less likely to exchange dependence on her parents for 
dependence on a husband (Unger & Crawford, 1992). Elder (1974) found 
that women who married later were more likely to have careers, 
financial stability and be middle class as opposed to lower class 
background. What has transformed societal attitudes toward marriage so 
that young women delay it, older women get out of it, and some women 
skip it altogether? Economic factors, a rise in feminism, parental 
influences, attitudes about sex, educational pursuits, and the divorce 
rate have all undergone significant cultural changes and are among 
some of the reasons being credited for influencing the ideas women 
have about marriage. Let's examine these influences and the attitudes 
of women which determine their decision to marry or delay marriage. We 
will also examine the expectations of marriage that today's educated 
women may have and how these expectations differ from other women's 
 Economic factors have resulted in women working outside the 
home, and have had a strong influence over a woman's decision to 
marry. "The ever increasing opportunities for women to work outside 
the home make her less and less dependent, economically, upon a 
husband" (Casler, 1974, p. 30). Late marrying women indicated that 
careers took relative precedence over marriage during the period of 
their lives when their "less achievement - oriented peers were opting 
for marriage" (Allen & Kalish, p. 141). Women now in the labor market 
want more than just a "job", and therefore, actively pursue a 
"career". Between 1969 and 1979, for example, percentages of women 
endorsing wanting to be "an authority in my field" increased from 
54.3% to 70.5% and in 1979 were only 4.8% lower than the percentage 
for men. Women endorsing wanting "to raise a family" declined in these 
years from 77.8% to64.8% which equals the percentage for men. (Long, 
 Becker's (1981) theories of marriage and family behavior 
hypothesize that women's increasing labor force participation has had 
a critical and presumably irreversible impact on the family. If half 
of all marriages are to fail, and with alimony for ex-wives less 
common, a woman cannot count upon marriage for a lifetime of economic
security (Allen & Kalish). Men's economic status has substantially 
deteriorated since the 1970's (Oppenheimer, 1994). The median income 
of men aged 25 to 34 fell by 26% between 1972 and 1994 (Koontz, 1997). 
The institution of marriage underwent a particularly rebellious and 
dramatic shift when women entered the work force. "People don't have 
to stay married because of economic forces now . . . we are in the 
midst of trying to renegotiate what the marriage contracts is - what 
men and women are suppose to do as partners" (Gleick, 1995). Studies 
show the lowest marriage rate of all is for women professionals (i.e., 
doctors, lawyers). While over three-fourths of all women in the United 
States aged 35 to 39 are married, fewer than two thirds of these
are professional women. Further, when they do marry, professional 
women are more likely to divorce than their age peers. As for 
childbearing, these women have significantly fewer children than their 
nonprofessional counterparts, when they have children at all (Allen & 
Kalish). In the case of having children Oppenheimer argues that "the 
major component of the cost of children is the "indirect" cost - the 
cost of the mother's time" (p. 295).
 A rise in feminism is credited for being another strong 
influence in women's lives. Feminism movements, with emphasis upon 
educational and vocational achievements for women, seem to encourage 
departure from traditional sex roles which were chiefly organized 
around marriage and children, and toward more extensive careers for 
women, especially those who are well educated (Becker). "Even though 
not all young women label themselves feminists, the idea that women 
can and should have aspirations other than wife and mother has been 
widely accepted" (Unger & Crawford, pg. 364). While it is true the 
woman's movement has made significant progress in its attempt to 
equalize opportunities, the situation continues to be blatantly 
unjust. "It has been said that marriage diminishes man, which is 
often true; but almost always it annihilates woman" (Casler, p. 30). 
Women, struggling to rise above the "housewife" role, have a strong 
desire to be valued for some of the same qualities men are valued
for: ambition, intelligence, and independence. Unfortunately, 
subservient status of the married woman is deeply embedded in history. 
"Conventional matrimony is seen by some to be a major stumbling block 
in the path toward women's liberation" (Casler, pg. 177). 
"Modernization has inevitably led to the growth of individualism with 
its emphasis on the importance of self fulfillment as opposed to the 
subordination of individual needs" (Oppenheimer). As a result, women 
not only are beginning to lead less traditional lives, but are also 
increasingly tolerant of differences in life styles among others 
(Becker). The old status order that granted men a privileged position 
in the family is crumbling. Proponents of women's empowerment have 
emphasized the effect of women's education and income on their 
decision making authority within the household (Lundberg & Pollack, 
1996). Policies that empower women have been supported with claims 
that they will increase the well being of children. The belief that
"kids do better" when their mothers control a larger fraction of 
family has been proven (Lundberg & Pollack).
 Parental influence and upbringing, no doubt, have a 
penetrating influence on a woman's ideas and her perceptions on 
marriage. Several studies have focused on parents' influence on a 
woman's marital timing. Late marriers had less dating experience and 
more parental restrictions than earlier marriers did (Elder). It was
found that the parents of late marrying women did not stress education 
and career over marriage but, valued career in its own right in such a 
way that they provided their daughters with permission to pursue a 
non-normative path (Allen & Kalish). So, it appears that parents of 
late marrying women have put less pressure on their daughters to marry 
than parents of the normative groups. In studies of women's 
educational achievements and family influences, it seems that women 
who pursue higher education goals and careers during the average 
marrying years have, if not encouragement, at least acceptance of 
their choice by their parents. Furthermore, father's occupation and
education and mother's education account for one-half of the variance 
in marital timing for women, which is consistent with the idea that 
both parents support their daughter in academic and career achievement 
if they themselves have achieved more (Allen & Kalish). In another 
study, parents of high educational and occupational level status,
exert positive influences on their daughter's education and career 
plans. Working mothers or mothers who are career oriented, tend to 
influence their daughters in that direction. A close relationship with 
parents and identification with their fathers are also positive 
predictors of career orientations of young women. A number of studies 
also have indicated that women who marry late are close to their 
parents. Frequently, their career goals are consistent with their 
family backgrounds (Allen & Kalish).
 Modern attitudes about sex are also influencing women. 
Traditionally, marriage was seen as a way to legitimize sexual 
relations. With the arrival of easily available birth control, sexual 
freedom is no longer a "reward" to be associated with marriage
(Allen & Kalish). Premarital sex and living together arrangements have 
become more acceptable to many (Unger & Crawford). Women who married 
late will have been more able to have adequate sexual lives before 
marriage than women who married during the average marrying years. 
Late marriers considered premarital sex more acceptable than normative 
marriers. Willingness to participate in intimate personal and sexual
relationships outside of marriage reduces the attractiveness of the 
marriage role (Gottman, 1994).
 The pursuit of an education is another significant influence 
on women, with the level of education achieved by women being directly 
related to their marital age (Elder). College attendance among women 
has doubled - one out of five women obtained some college education in 
the mid 1960's compared to two out of five in the early 1980's. "With 
their rapid increase in college attendance, by 1983 women constituted 
over half of the student body at two-year colleges and closed to half 
of the students attending four-year colleges" (McLaughlin, 1988, 
p.35). The most dramatic changes have occurred in the professions of 
law and medicine. The number of women becoming lawyers increased from 
230 in 1960 to approximately 12,000 in 1982 up from 3 to 33% of all 
lawyers. Similarly, the number of women who received medical degrees 
increased from 3% in 1960 to approximately 4,000 in 1981, representing 
a jump from 6 to 25% of all medical degrees. Women are also rapidly 
growing in the professions of architecture and business 
administration, professions previously dominated by males. By 1985
women were earning half of all bachelor and master degrees and over a 
third of the doctorates, compared to the 42% of all bachelor degrees, 
32% of master degrees and 10% of all doctorates in the 1960's 
(O'Neill, 1989). The result is that both education and experience 
levels of the female labor force have begun to increase at a faster 
rate than they have for the male labor force (McLaughlin). Koontz 
found that highly educated women in professional careers are less 
likely than women in general to be involved in marriage and parenting. 
In recent decades, the percentage of young women obtaining advanced 
degrees and pursuing a professional career has increased dramatically. 
Between 1971 and 1980 the percentage of women aged 30-39 who completed 
four or more years of college rose from 10.3 to 18.8 percent (Koontz). 
A positive relationship between educational attainment and the timing 
of marriage for women exists. 
 A woman's completed fertility level is also highly correlated 
with her educational attainment in part because of the effect of 
delayed childbearing on fertility. Educational attainment is 
negatively associated with the likelihood that women will ever marry 
and/or bear children. Educational attainment is also related to the 
likelihood of divorce, for women but not for men. Women who have 
completed six or more years of college have significantly higher rates 
of divorce than woman at all other education levels, except high 
school drop-outs. High levels of education by women is highly 
predictive of delayed and reduced involvement in marital and parental 
roles (Allen & Kalish).
 Acknowledging the prevalence of divorce may influence a 
woman's future decision to marry. Plenty of young women have seen 
unhappy marriages as they grew up - giving them an understandable fear 
of committing themselves. This may account for the rapid growth in the 
proportion of women rejecting marriage. We all know the statistics - 
half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce and nearly a 
third of all children are born out of wedlock. As a result four out of 
10 kids don't live with both of their biological parents (Chollar, 
1993). Delayed marriage and continued high divorce levels will combine 
to shrink the share of currently married men and women in most age
groups. In the 21st century, men will remain more married than women 
because of the surplus of adult women in all but the under age 25 
group (McLaughlin). Gottman found that a major complaint of divorced 
women was that their ex-husband's had the majority of power. Moreover, 
it is still overwhelming women, not men, who are called upon to
adjust their work lives to the demands of child rearing by quitting 
their jobs, working part-time or choosing a flexible job over one that 
offers higher pay (Cherlin, 1990). Women are also showing less 
patience with problem marriages as growing numbers unravel the 
marriage bond with divorce.
 The decline in the ideal of marital permanence - one of the 
most well documented value changes among Americans in recent decades - 
also has tended to make persons less willing and able to make the 
needed commitments to and investments in marriage (Gleick, 1993, p. 
28). While entering into marriage with the "utmost care and deepest 
consideration can only be to the good, it may be marriage itself - 
along with the most basic institutions like the work place - that 
continues to need refining" (Gleick, p. 28). Today's women, all too
aware of the current divorce numbers, may be hesitant to enter into 
 I would say we're in a stalled revolution . . . women have 
gone into the labor force, but not much else has changed to adapt to 
that new situation. We have not rewired the notion of manhood so that
it makes sense to men to participate at home (Gleick, pg. 56). 
 Many married women report although their role has changed when 
they entered the work force, men primary have kept doing what they 
have always been doing, thus, putting additional burdens on women 
(Gleick). "However it seems that it is not the increased workload 
itself but rather the increased inequality that makes mothers less
satisfied with their marriages than nonmothers" (Unger & Crawford, pg. 
375). Men are making some progress though, in taking on household 
tasks, including child care, but women still shoulder most of the 
burden in families.
 One of the most likely reasons for the decline in marital 
success is an increase in what persons expect of marriage. The levels 
of intimacy, emotional support, companionship, and sexual 
gratification that people believe they should get from marriage differ 
because of the breakdown of what it means to be husband or wife. 
 Whereas, until recently, the rights and obligations of 
spouse's were prescribed culturally and fairly well understood by just 
about everyone, they have become a matter for regulation in the 
individual marriages for some this has led to discord and 
disappointment (Gleick, p. 26). 
 Altogether then, cultural changes related to sex roles would 
seem to produce different expectations of marriage. A woman who has 
supported herself to the age of 25 or above and has lived on her own 
until that age has had time to get more education, be exposed more to 
a variety of view points and experiences, and therefore, is more 
likely to expect a peer relationship with her husband. "All in all, 
she is more likely than a younger woman to enter marriage with a well 
developed sense of self worth and broad horizons for her life" (Unger 
& Crawford, pg. 364). Compared with a woman who marries younger - she 
is more likely to expect a more traditional relationship in which
the husband is dominant (Everett, 1991). According to Everett, 
younger women expect greater communication, companionship, and 
compatibility with their spouses than older women. Possibly younger 
women, still maturing, have not yet developed their own sense of self 
worth and, therefore, depend on their spouse to fulfill their needs of
worthiness. As opposed to older women who, in most cases, have a more 
stronger sense of self worth. 
 The traditional bargain struck between men and women - 
financial support for domestic services - is no longer valid. Women 
have shown outstanding improvements in education, and played a major 
part in the work force. With education and occupation in their hands, 
women do not need to rely on men for economic support, thus marriage
is not an immediate concern anymore. However, it should be noted that 
when both husband and wife are employed the marriage is given an 
economic boost.
 Nonetheless, all of these changes have spurred women to 
greater autonomy. Each has affected marriage in a different way, but 
all have worked in unity toward the same result - to make marriage 
less urgent and more arbitrary. Marriage may change for the better if 
people are committed to making the institution work, although in a new
format. Still, studies show young adult women still care about 
marriage enough that the conflict between work life and family life 
remains intense. It's resolution remains a major issue on the public 
agenda for the future.


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