10/10/2014 05:17 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Like Grandmother, Like Granddaughter?

by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger

Newlyweds Brad and Angelina, George and Amal aside, I have some questions: What do we think about marriage? Has its day come and gone? Is society enhanced by a married populace, or is the institution largely irrelevant to our collective happiness?

As usual, when I pose questions like this, I have no idea of the answer. But according to Pew Research, we're in a time when a record share of Americans adults has never married. In fact, the number is at an "historic high"--about twice what it was in 1960, when about one-in-10 adults 25 or older had never married. Today, that number is more like one-in-five. About one-third of those polled say they're not sure they want to marry, and another 13 percent say "not for me." Ever.

Some of the statistics intrigued me; some left me perplexed. For example, in 1960, 93 percent--93 percent!!!--of men aged 25 to 34 were in the workforce. By 2012, that figure had fallen to 82 percent. On top of that, median wages for men that age have fallen about 20 percent since 1980, adjusted for inflation. Surprise! Financial insecurity is one of the reasons people put off marriage.

And consider this: In 1960 there were 139 employed men per 100 employed women ages 25 to 34. In 2012, that figure dropped to 91, even though there are more men than women in the age group. Couple this with what people say they value when choosing a spouse: For women, it's someone with a steady job--not great news for the 18 percent of adult men not in the workforce. I'm guessing they won't be feeling the love. Men say they want to find a woman who holds similar values about having and raising children.

Suffice it to say there were a lot more men in the "steady job/potential partner" category in 1960 than there are today. The silver lining for women? We're earning more college degrees than we did in 1960--even more than men in 2013--so while finding a likely spouse might not quite work out, women can earn a better living now than they could in 1960.

Here's what I find so confounding: Last time I checked, we are in the 21st century. We're 42 years beyond the 1972 Ms. magazine launch, a magazine that emerged as the voice of contemporary feminism at the time, featuring female journalists and feminist voices. Founding editor Letty Cottin Pogrebin believed the writers contributing to Ms. turned "a movement into a magazine."

On the magazine's 40th anniversary a few years ago, Ms. Pogrebin said this about the social and historical impact of the magazine: "A world without Ms. would be a world without feisty, fabulous, trouble-making, truth-telling women. For the last 40 years, wherever I go, women have told me how grateful they are to Ms., how reading it changed their lives for the better, inspired them to demand their rights, broaden their aspirations, feel less isolated, and speak truth to power. I'm proud to have been one of the magazine's founding editors."

Fine. Lovely. Fabulous. She may have missed the Pew research poll about women defining their ideal partners. I'm quoting the study's abstract here: "Never-married women place a great deal of importance on finding someone who has a steady job--fully 78 percent say this would be very important to them in choosing a spouse or partner."

And what about men? "...Someone who shares their ideas about raising children is more important in choosing a spouse than someone who has a steady job." That was their number one answer.

I've said it before and I'll say it here: Women marched for this? Whatever happened to "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle?" From what I've read, women want a man who can support them, and men want a woman who will raise their children. Groundbreaking.

Maybe I'm oversimplifying here. But wowie! We went to school. We earned degrees, sometimes several of them. We made our way into boardrooms and courtrooms and barrooms and demonstrated our talent and our value to the marketplace over and over and over again.

Turns out that many of the daughters we had between 1980 and 1989 (the ages represented in the research) didn't get the memo about women being empowered, enlightened, and autonomous. Turns out our sons didn't either. How else do you explain their "ideal mate" responses?

To me, this feels like a group of people who are free to be exactly who their grandparents were. What a journey.

Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists' Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates--and broods about--life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, "Really? You're kidding me, right?" (or wants to, anyway), and she welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.

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