How Unmarried Women Are Driving Positive Change in the United States

recent article in New York magazine, Rebecca Traister reports this important change: “in 2009, for the first time in American history, single women outnumbered married women. Today, only around 20 percent of Americans ages 18–29 are wed, compared to nearly 60 percent in 1960.” Traister points out that this change represents a radical upheaval that cuts across classes and races. It was made possible by the social movements that came earlier— abolition, suffrage, the labor fights of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the civil rights, women’s, and LGBT rights movements of the mid-twentieth century—but is not, itself, an intentionally politicized or conscious movement. It is just that as a result of these earlier movements, women have internalized the assumption that it is acceptable, and the best choice for them, not to be married: that they are whole people able to live satisfying lives on their own or in community if they don’t happen to meet someone they want to legally bind themselves to. Nonetheless, this shift is driving profound change in politics and in the political agendas of our legislative and presidential contests. Consider the potential impact of this statistic for the 2016 elections by Page Gardner, as cited by Traister: “For the first time in history, a majority of women voters are projected to be unmarried.” Traister points out that this means single women, at both the high and low ends of the earning spectrum and across race, have a set of common needs not yet met by government. These needs require a major revamping of the civic institutions that still operate on the assumption that women are financially dependent on men, and that men are the breadwinners and women are the unpaid, or low wage, family caregivers. For example, think about school letting out in the middle of the afternoon—what is the assumption about who is available to pick up the children? These assumptions were never true for most African American women, and now a majority of all women have shared interests and the potential political clout in the voting booth to drive a new social contract for women that includes the following:

  • Stronger equal pay protections
  • A higher federally mandated minimum wage
  • A national health-care system that covers reproductive intervention
  • More affordable housing for single people
  • Criminal justice reforms
  • Government subsidized day care programs
  • Federally mandated paid family leave for both women and men
  • Universal paid-sick-day compensation
  • Increases in welfare benefits
  • Reduced college costs
  • Quality early-education programs
We are at a moment in history when we have the potential to unify to make change. In order to realize this possibility, though, we must each do our part by registering to vote and voting for candidates who support these policy changes. What changes are you seeing in families and for women that reflect this new reality of single women outnumbering married women?   Image courtesy of photostock at]]>