Why More Women Choose Not to Marry

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 10/15/2014, 8:33 a.m.
The rise of the voluntarily single woman is a slow, gradual revolution.
single

By Pepper Schwartz

CNN Editor's note: Pepper Schwartz is professor of sociology at the University of Washington and the author of many books, the latest of which is "The Normal Bar." She is the love and relationship ambassador for AARP and writes the Naked Truth column for AARP.org. She is also a senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit organization that gathers research on American families. The opinions in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Some revolutions happen in a single day; others over decades. The rise of the voluntarily single woman has been happening in Western societies slowly, over time, concomitant with well-paying jobs, legal protection from economic or physical abuse, reliable birth control and the possibility of fulfilling careers and adventures.

Women are marrying at a later age these days, cohabiting with their partners or going in and out of short-term relationships without ever walking down the aisle.

Currently, 53% of women over 18 are in the singles column. Put another way, women now have choices that allow them to customize the arc of their lives and some of them find that it is best for them to put marriage aside.

Is this natural? Is this bad? Is this cause for alarm?

We have long counted on women's sacrifices and the compromises they've made to lift societies all over the world. We are worried that if women delay or forgo marriage, the all-important family unit will suffer.

As much as I admire happy couples and families, I think this may be one of the few times in history when so many women could choose from such a full range of life choices without penalty or stigma. Since few people "have it all," why not choose being single if that's the best option?

What it comes down to is people get married when it's a good deal. The question is why isn't marriage a good deal anymore? Here are some considerations.

  1. A useless husband

If a woman is poor and only meets equally poor or poorer men, she's in a tough spot. It is no secret that many women do not choose to marry if the available partners will make their economic situation worse.

In some of these cases, even if a woman has a child, she may be better off with government help than a nonworking, noninvolved husband.

  1. Success changes everything

When a woman is very privileged or highly successful, marriage could come very easily -- or not. Think of the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, who was married eight times. Or Oprah Winfrey, who for personal or professional reasons, is not married.

Moreover, a woman doesn't need a husband who is a high-powered corporate attorney if she is a high-powered corporate attorney. Taking advantage of economic and professional opportunities could be undermined by committing to a partner with an equally ambitious, or different, life agenda. This kind of woman may wake up every day to new and exciting challenges and think, "best to wait."