Feminism: Great for Marriage

Social conservatives talk a big game about marriage. They love it! They have to protect it at all costs! Feminists and gays are ruining it!

It’s no big secret that conservative opposition to same-sex marriage is simultaneously about homophobia and misogyny — a dislike of gay people, coupled with a severe discomfort at the idea that two people of the same sex could form a partnership, because that turns the “traditional” man-in-charge marital relationship on its head. I’m not sure they’d ever say this out loud, but the unspoken thought process seems to be, “But who will be the wife?” Traditional marriage, in the social conservative’s world, is a heirarchy: The man is at the top and controls things, and the woman is at the bottom to support him. That’s just how it works. Feminists and marriage-equality activists want to kick the ladder over on its side. To the guy at the top of the ladder, that’s mighty scary.

Turns out, though, that feminists and marriage-equality activists have already changed the face of marriage, and for the better. With women earning more than ever before, and being better-educated than ever before, marriages are more egalitarian. Housework is more often shared (although women still do the lion’s share). Couples who share housework have more sex. Men spend more time with their children than ever before. And everyone is happier and more stable because of it.

While the changing economic roles of husbands and wives may take some getting used to, the shift has had a surprising effect on marital stability. Over all, the evidence shows that the shifts within marriages — men taking on more housework and women earning more outside the home — have had a positive effect, contributing to lower divorce rates and happier unions.

And despite scary headlines claiming that education ruins a woman’s chances at finding marital bliss, the statistics tell a different story:

While it’s widely believed that a woman’s financial independence increases her risk for divorce, divorce rates in the United States tell a different story: they have fallen as women have made economic gains. The rate peaked at 23 divorces per 1,000 couples in the late 1970s, but has since dropped to fewer than 17 divorces per 1,000 couples. Today, the statistics show that typically, the more economic independence and education a woman gains, the more likely she is to stay married. And in states where fewer wives have paid jobs, divorce rates tend to be higher, according to a 2009 report from the Center for American Progress.

Sociologists and economists say that financially independent women can be more selective in marrying, and they also have more negotiating power within the marriage. But it’s not just women who win. The net result tends to be a marriage that is more fair and equitable to husbands and wives.

Older, highly-educated women are also doing pretty well for themselves when it comes to marriage.

Of course, articles like this assume that marriage is high on most women’s lists of life to-dos — not necessarily true for a lot of us. But it is true that most people get married at some point in their lives, and most people who get married probably want to stay that way — or at least, stay happy enough in their marriages where staying married makes sense. Feminists have shifted the focus of marriage away from an economic necessity and towards a truly fulfilling partnership. So conservatives are right about one thing: Traditional marriage is being challenged by feminists and marriage-equality activists. But traditional marriage has already been irreparably changed. And that’s a good thing.

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8 comments for “Feminism: Great for Marriage

  1. Pagan
    January 26, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Great post. I could not agree more. I come from one of those families where the woman (me) earns more than the man (my husband) and where we consider ourselves EQUAL. Chores are split evenly and we both go off to work everyday. Every dime is a contribution to OUR future. Ten years now and going strong. The irony of the matter is that the preacher who married us predicted to my father in law we’d be divorced in no time because I refused to say OBEY in our wedding vows. Just shows how incredibly wrong the religious folks are.

  2. Theaetetus
    January 26, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    My main opposition to the “screw marriage, if they’re going to be jerks, we don’t want to play in their sandbox” movement is that it abandons the substantive legal benefits of marriage – automatic legal and medical proxies, probate-free inheritance, citizenship for immigrant spouses, etc. It’s better to take marriage back and reshape it to what it was before the church got involved at the Council of Trent: a common law-based partnership between two people who, though unrelated, trust each other enough to form a partnership that trumps all other next-of-kin relationships.

  3. SomePerson
    January 27, 2010 at 12:07 am

    Reminds me of the Daily Show segment.
    “People who were discriminated against because of their race or religion can team up and discriminate against people for their sexual orientation without noticing the tiniest bit of irony.”

  4. Maguire
    January 27, 2010 at 1:29 am

    This is a wonderful point that you are making that traditional marriage has already been altered, but we still have a long way to go before we have full equality for everyone.

    You might enjoy this interview series about professional women in online journalism,
    conducted by the fall 2009 Gender and Mass Media class from the University of Iowa.

  5. Athenia
    January 27, 2010 at 9:59 am

    This makes sense to me. It seems to echo the whole micro-loan movement–poor women are usually better at repaying the loan than poor men AND they invest their money into their family.

    I don’t mean to generalize, but I can see how a woman who has the economic “power” in the relationship can provide a stable environment, maybe even better than a guy who has the economic power since power can mean different things to men and women (at least in a societal context).

  6. January 27, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Indeed, and it seems to me that the so-called traditional marriages are often the flimsiest of the flimsy. Those who get married for reasons beyond love or too young to really know themselves enough to determine what they really want from life are those that don’t make it very long in the first place.

  7. January 27, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Is anyone really surprised by this, though? Anyone besides conservatives, MRAs and anti-feminists?

    Still it’s always reassuring to read news like this…even when it confirms what one already knows. It reminded me of the findings of another study I read a while back:


  8. February 5, 2010 at 10:25 am

    “Feminists have shifted the focus of marriage away from an economic necessity and towards a truly fulfilling partnership.”

    Right on. I love to examine how in my own marriage the tables have turned. Not economically – I’m a poor academic and writer by choice and my husband is more successful than I at earning money – but how I feel empowered in my relationship to ask for, demand and receive the things I want. I’m the tough love partner and he’s the nurturer. In so many ways, I feel I more resemble a husband of the Victorian period rather than an oppressed wife of any era. Again, I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about gender and how my husband and I are not aligning male/masculine and female/feminine the way it was before the feminist revolution of the 20th Century. I don’t know if other people can tell that this is the way we behave with each other at home or if they’re paying attention to how we hold doors for each other in public, etc. But I know…and that makes me feel powerful and fulfilled.

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