Social historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead has two unmarried daughters in their thirties and has written a book about their problems: Why There Are No Good Men Left. The basic problem, she seems to believe, is a sort of mechanical lack of opportunity. Young women today are raised to find careers rather than husbands. When they eventually become interested in settling down, they’re likely to be trapped in a routine that includes work, working-out and a circle of friends, but not the pool of eligible young men they knew in college. So they don’t get married for lack of prospects.
So what to do? Not question the upbringing, expectations and conduct
that lead women into a dead end. After all, Professor Whitehead points out, waiting brings maturity, good judgement, and financial security, all of which are good for a marriage if one should come about. So for her the answer is to develop new courtship mechanisms tailored to fit the needs of busy professionals. Already, innovations like online introduction services and “SpeedDating” events have emerged. These and other ingenious improvements, she hopes, will “revive [women’s] flagging faith that it is possible to find lasting love and to integrate a loving marriage into a life of individual career achievement.”
All of which seems somewhat unlikely. Can a mechanical failure in markets really be what’s behind a problem like this? To extend the commercial metaphor, deals close faster and the ensuing relationships are more likely to be stable if each party supplies something different that the other needs. It seems likely that something of the sort applies to marriage as well, so that the “strictly equal” marriage will always be something of an anomaly. If the sexes have no pressing practical reason for marriage they’re much less likely to marry and work out marital problems. Marriage may be important for personal emotional fulfillment, but it can’t work when that is its main purpose. And in any case, women—especially women trained to value themselves and therefore others on career success—aren’t likely to marry down no matter what they say in interviews. So it seems unlikely that a technical fix of the sort Dr. Whitehead favors is likely to emerge.
An incidental but characteristic feature of her views is that she is convinced that the problem she sees in the marriage market applies only to women. On the face of it that seems strange: if fewer women get married and have children, then it seems—if you assume men are not declining in number and you ignore the somewhat unlikely possibility of polyandry—that the same would hold for men. The solution seems to be that men don’t mind marrying down, so the men who lose out are those she calls “guys who were not quite so well-educated.” And those are men who, as a professional woman thinking about marriage, Dr. Whitehead could hardly care less about.