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Susan Shapiro Barash Headshot

Why So Many Women Yearn to Be Wives

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Despite the fact that it's the twenty-first century and women can earn their own money, go to a sperm bank to have a child and lead a satisfying social life without a man, the role of wife remains compelling.

Young women are more self-assured than ever, not necessarily in search of a boyfriend and comfortable focusing on their own goals. They know that sex can be a sport and men can be adjunct, perhaps fungible. Yet what I've found is that at a certain point for these women, usually by their mid to late-twenties, being engaged and getting married becomes important.

It isn't that these millennials live under a rock or haven't heard the stats on divorce or that they haven't noticed the breakups of Katie and Tom, Demi and Ashton and even old-timers Tipper and Al. What happens to this group, as well as to women in their 30s to their 80s, is a pervasive sense that they're missing something meaningful if they aren't wives. No wonder there are widows, divorcées and never-married women of a certain age who approach "wifing" as an essential experience. Few of us can escape what has been etched into our psyches for decades -- that being a wife is significant. That the perks of the job trump the obstacles.

Each of us responds to marriage partially based on our personal experience -- we meet a man and are convinced he is "the one" and after an appropriate amount of time together, the commitment is made (this may escalate due to a biological clock, a dread of being single another Christmas, family pressure or exhaustion with the men out there). A woman is partially influenced by her mother's modeling -- negative, positive or mixed. Society at large is also a partial influence, always assuring us that there is no better imprimatur of romantic love than marriage. This is true among the 200 women with whom I spoke for my latest study and book. These women are from all parts of the country; large cities, small towns, suburbs and rural areas. They vary in age, social strata and ethnicity, but despite their different backgrounds, their attitudes toward the role of wife are strikingly similar. According to my research:

  • 80 percent of women begin their marriages based on romantic love
  • 80 percent of women, regardless of their current marital statuses, consider marriage a goal
  • More than 60 percent of women believe they will succeed at being a wife
  • More than 70 percent did not want to miss the experience
  • 65 percent of women end up embracing the conventionality of husband, house, children

The advantage is that wives today have a level of confidence that's unprecedented and impressive. Not only do these women choose to be wives but they expect, perhaps command, that their husbands come through for them. If fifty or sixty years ago wives had little agency of their own, wives today are mature and worldly. Most likely, they have lived with their husbands before they marry and the couple has hammered out their differences and values ahead of the march down the aisle. This savvy wife wants the marriage and views it as a means of securing a best friend and trusted confidante. In this way, she is a true believer who is unfazed by any Census report or her friend's tale of woe and has tremendous hope that her marriage will succeed.