Did your parents and teachers fail to teach you to find a husband? That’s the premise put forth by Eleanor Mills in the London Times this week. She looks around at her 30-something and 40-something single friends and thinks:
…as a generation we were bred not to prioritise finding a husband and having a family. Unlike generations of females before us, we were bred to work. I was born in 1970, in the middle of women’s lib. My mother and her peers were conscious-raising and feminist.
Seriously? There’s an epidemic of single ladies because our moms were feminists? I don’t think so.
Let’s be clear: Mills is wrong. There’s no epidemic of single ladies. Several times she points out that one in five women of her generation will never have a child. That means 80% of her peers will have kids. This is double the rate of childless women from our mothers generation, but most of those women (unlike Mills anecdotal friends) aren’t unhappy about their choices.
Choice being the operative word. Given the choice between having children or not, most women choose to have them but a sizeable minority don’t. Similarly, in developed countries with good access to health care, birth control and education, some women choose to have large families but the majority don’t.
What the feminist revolution of the 1970s, and more importantly The Pill, gave to women wasn’t a life sentence as singles, but rather the choice to marry or not. With new paths to self-sufficiency through professional careers and higher education, there’s less pressure on women to marry young and start makin’ babies. We also enjoy the privilege to have kids on our own if we choose, again thanks to a combination of feminism and modern science.
A few generations ago, an educated middle-class woman who never married would be an “old maid”, financially dependent on her extended family and consigned to the fringes of her social world. That’s what’s changed: not the difficulty on finding a good husband, but the need for one.
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