Men Blamed for Marriage Decline but Women’s Relationship Wounds Often Self-Inflicted

By Glenn Sacks

The recent census data finding that for the first time the majority of American women are unmarried is being greeted in a largely celebratory tone. One metro daily explains, "Who needs a man? Not most women." MSNBC warns, "Watch out, men! More women opt to live alone." CBS says, "More Women Saying ‘I Don’t.’" One syndicated newspaper cartoon depicts a happily divorced woman remembering her ex-husband bellowing, "Where’s my dinner?! Iron my shirts!! Lose weight!!!" Several others depict women pondering the single life as their fat, lazy husbands drink beer and watch the game. One female blogger summed up the female blogosphere’s reaction–"Hurray for all Single Women! You Go Girls!"

This census finding is now in question–apparently New York Times reporter Sam Roberts, whose recent article created international headlines on marriage’s decline, exaggerated. Nevertheless, the message from the Times and numerous other news outlets is clear–marriage is in decline because men don’t measure up, and are no longer needed nor often even wanted. Since women have careers now, we are told, men’s traditional contribution–financial support–has become largely irrelevant, and men do not now nor did they ever contribute much more than that.

In reality, men give a lot to their families–as much as women do. To the extent that the decline in marriage reflects female dissatisfaction with men, the change has more to do with overcritical women and their excessive expectations than it does with unsuitable men.

The most common charge leveled at men is that they don’t hold up their end in the home. Men do work, many critics say, but women work, too, and also do most of the child care and housework–the "second shift."

Research contradicts this. Census data shows that only 40% of married women with children under 18 work full-time, and over a quarter do not hold a job outside the home. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2004 Time Use Survey, men spend one and a half times as many hours working as women do, and full-time employed men still work significantly more hours than full-time employed women. When work outside the home and inside the home are properly considered, it is clear that men do at least as much as women.

A 2002 University of Michigan Institute for Social Research survey found that women do 11 more hours of housework a week than men, but men work at their jobs 14 hours a week more than women. According to the BLS, men’s total time at leisure, sleeping, doing personal care activities, or socializing is a statistically meaningless 1% higher than women’s. The Families and Work Institute in New York City found that fathers, despite their greater market labor load, provide three-fourths as much child care as mothers do. And these studies do not account for the fact, strongly supported by federal Department of Labor data, that men’s jobs tend to be more dangerous and physically straining than women’s.

To what, then, do we attribute women’s discontent with marriage and relationships, and the fact that they initiate the vast majority of divorces? A new Woman’s Day magazine poll found that 56% of married women would not or might not marry their husbands if they could choose again–why?

Nobody would dispute that, in selecting a mate, women are more discerning than men. This is an evolutionary necessity–a woman must carefully evaluate who is likely to remain loyal to her and protect and provide for her and her children. If a man and a woman go on a blind date and don’t hit it off, the man will shrug and say "it went OK." The woman will give five reasons why he’s not right for her.

A woman’s discerning, critical nature doesn’t disappear on her wedding day. Most marital problems and marriage counseling sessions revolve around why the wife is unhappy with her husband, even though they could just as easily be about why the husband is unhappy with the wife. In this common pre-divorce scenario there are only two possibilities–either she’s a great wife and he’s a lousy husband, or she’s more critical of him than he is of her. Usually it’s the latter.

Despite this week’s media homilies, it’s doubtful that many men or women are truly happy alone. Much of women’s cheerful "I don’t need a man/I love my cats" reaction has a hollow ring to it, and sounds a lot more like whistling in the dark than a celebration.

Yes, there are some men who make poor mates, but not nearly enough to account for the divorce epidemic and the decline of marriage. While it’s easy and popular to blame men, many of the wounds women bear from failed relationships and loneliness are self-inflicted.