In a recent Fox News op-ed, conservative author Suzanne Venker made two immodest proposals. According to Venker, women need a husband and financial dependency for women is beneficial. While Venker's views are certainly consistent with an ideology accepted 60 years ago, her views fail to acknowledge major structural changes that occurred over the past 60 years in the United States.
Many individuals, including feminists, would argue that women claiming men are unnecessary is an extreme argument. Long term romantic relationships positively influence the health, assets, and overall wellbeing of both men and women. Research also indicates that children who grow up in two-parent, intact households fare better on multiple indicators, including educational, emotional, and behavioral outcomes. At the same time, Venker's proposition that women only recently embraced their ability to have a child independently is false. In 1992, the lead character on the popular television program Murphy Brown had a child without a husband or partner, drawing a great deal of controversy and even criticism from sitting Vice President Dan Quayle. Twenty-one years later, however, women are simply better equipped financially and medically to have children without a husband.
While Venker's criticism of women not requiring male partners raises eyebrows, her argument that women should be financially dependent on a male partner is particularly problematic. Although Venker gives lip service to the notion that a good man is hard to find, she fails to address the primary issues facing women today when seeking financially stable partners. Since the 1970s, major structural changes in the U.S. economy influenced marriage opportunities. As a result of the decline in manufacturing jobs that provided less educated men the opportunity to be good providers and thereby suitable marriage partners, a significant percentage of men are considered unmarriageable.
Marriageability issues are very acute among less educated men and women for whom marital stability is an issue. Following divorce, women not only lose a substantial percentage of their income, but also at risk of falling below the poverty line. If approximately 50 percent of individuals in the U.S. who marry divorce and divorce is more prevalent among lower-income and less educated individuals, economic dependence for women is not only ideologically objectionable but ludicrous.
Venker also fails to address the economic realities faced by many American families today. With increased costs for basic living expenses and a stagnant economy, many couples depend on two incomes for survival. In fact, many women have assumed the role of primary breadwinner. In 40 percent of American households, women are the principal if not the sole breadwinner and 25 percent of married women earn more money than their husbands. Given women earning undergraduate and graduate degrees at higher rates than their male counterparts, women's increased financial contribution should not be surprising. Moreover, the benefits associated with having a female breadwinner are considerable if the male experiences unemployment, illness, or general employment changes.
Venker suggests that women seek flexibility in work. Financially depending on men and suggesting that women not work full-time, however, removes flexibility for women who wish to pursue careers after their children attend school or require less intensive care. Many women who stay at home with young children and are financially dependent on their husbands face great difficulty when trying to reenter the labor force. Additionally, mothers who do not have the luxury of leaving the labor force face a 7 percent wage penalty per child. The mommy penalty is associated with stereotypes that women are less dedicated workers who will leave the labor force to rely financially on their male partner.
Venker's op-ed claims that the principal means by which women can achieve flexibility is to rely on a male partner. Women do not achieve flexibility by relying on the more linear career paths of male partners but rather put their families and themselves at risk of poverty. Financial dependence on male partners not only relegates women to subservience but precariousness. Given that women have been increasing their labor force participation and educational pursuits for decades, the social change Venker recommends is fortunately not eminent.