The Wilson Quarterly

Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer recently suggested in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that “‘marriage inequality’ should be at the center of any discussion of why some Americans prosper and others don’t,” buttressing his position with stats showing the differences in earning power between married and unmarried women.

As one might imagine, some begged to differ. “When you say to women, to get out of poverty you should get married, my question to them is how many men you have to marry," Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, said at an event earlier this year. “Marrying a 10-dollar-an-hour man gets you nowhere, so you'd really have to marry three or four."

Ehrenreich’s “sharp-tongued dismissal” of Fleischer’s idea might compel Americans to reconsider their reasons to marry, writes Emma Green of The Atlantic. Self-described feminists “question the merits of marriage and urge their fellow women to remain independent if they choose,” but Green says opposing the power imbalance between men and women in society is much easier if a woman happens to have an education.

It is not as easy for her low-income counterparts. “For a poor woman, deciding whether to get married or not will be a big part of shaping her economic future,” Green writes. “For a wealthier woman, deciding whether to get married is a choice about independence, lifestyle, and, at times, ‘fighting the patriarchy.’ There's a cognitive dissonance in Ehrenreich's straight-up dismissal of the economic benefits of marriage, because the statistics tell an awkward truth: financially, married women tend to fare much better than unmarried women.”

Unlike Fleischer, Green maintains that marriage is not “the silver-bullet to solving income inequality.” Yet the feminist aim to resist the patriarchy must meet the cold reality that only some women have the economic luxury of refusing marriage.

Even Beyoncé is getting involved, speaking out against society pushing marriage on women. Her new record even includes a sample of a TED talk from artist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who asks: “[W]hy do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?

Green thinks it’s an important question, right up there with, “If I choose not to marry, what will be the economic consequences?”

And, at the same time, women who are economically comfortable in their rejection of marriage must begin to consider the fact that ‘all the single ladies’ might not be able to follow the example.

The Source: “Wealthy Women Can Afford to Reject Marriage, But Poor Women Can’t” by Emma Green. The Atlantic, January 15, 2014.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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