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Marriage Squeeze

Demographic Consequences Of A Female Marriage Squeeze

It could be argued that where there are women without marriage, there will be sex without marriage. Where there is sex without marriage, there will be babies without marriage. When there are enough illegitimate babies, the social significance of bastardy is eroded, which erodes the social significance of being married or not married.

A significant female marriage squeeze tends to destabilize traditional family systems based on universal marriage, lifelong monogamy, and babies born within wedlock. Breaking the sacrosanct link between fertility and marriage leads to changes in many interdependent demographic rates. Increases are observed in, among other things, women never married, premarital sex, premarital conceptions, common-law marriages, illegitimate births, and mother-child households. Age at first intercourse declines, but age at first marriage increases.

When the unmarried can act as if they were married, the married can act as if they were single. Redefining relationships leads to rising divorce rates. When divorce is defined as a right rather than as a privilege, grounds for divorce are widened, and eventually evolve to divorce on demand. The female marriage squeeze is again exacerbated by sex differences in remarriage: divorced men and widowers are more likely to remarry than are divorced women and widows, and they do so in a shorter period of time.

During a female marriage squeeze, unmarried women may be without a consort for a major period of their lives. The absence of financial support from men requires an investment in employment. Married women know that their marriages are vulnerable: marriage is difficult, divorce is easy, and remarriage is uncertain. An investment in employment provides some security. In either case, responsibility for children rests, or may rest, with the mother alone. A female marriage squeeze further reinforces two existing trends: an increase of women in the workforce and a decline in fertility.

Brides in India: A special case. The rapid increase in population in India, and the subsequent increase in cohort size, has lead to an extreme female marriage squeeze, which as been extensively described and analyzed (Bhat et al. 1999). The scarcity of suitable grooms is associated with marked increase in the size of dowry given away with the bride. It involves, in effect, a "rising price of husband" (Rao 1993). This outcome reinforces the prevailing cultural devaluation of daughters in favor of sons. The incentive for sex selection has already increased the sex ratio at birth, and subsequent generations will experience a male marriage squeeze.

Black Americans: A special case. The female marriage squeeze occurred much earlier, and much more intensely, among black Americans that among whites. "Approximately two-thirds of blacks are single. By contrast, approximately two thirds of whites are married" (Davis and Emerson 1997). Research on the demographic and interpersonal effects of the marriage squeeze draw heavily from research on them (Albrecht and Fossett 1997; Crowder and Tonlay 2000; and Fossett and Kiecolt 1991). The seminal work in this area is Too Many Women? The Sex Role Question (Guttentag and Secord 1983). Subsequently, this extensive literature has been integrated in The Decline in Marriage Among African Americans (Tucker and Mitchell-Kernan 1995) and Family Life in Black America (Taylor, Jackson, and Chatters 1997).

Unacceptable compromises: Exogamy. When it comes to major issues, such as race and religion, rates of interracial or interreligious exogamy are not greatly increased. For example, Israeli women who married young, when they had many men to choose from, were no more likely to marry out that those who married later, when they had fewer options (Stier and Shavit 1994). In America, there have been only modest increases in black-white marriages (Crowder and Tonlay 2000).

Unacceptable compromises: Employability. Among black women, the sex ratio is even lower than it seems, in that black women tend not to compromise on issues of employability. Usually they are willing to remain single rather than marry an economically unattractive man. "Market conditions—good or bad—have little to do with women's willingness to marry heterogamously. Generally, they are not willing to cast a wide net in the face of market constraints" (Lichter and Anderson 1995). The criterion that a potential husband should be employed, or at least employable, holds firm. In reality, the low sex ratio among blacks is even lower than it seems because men who are incarcerated, institutionalized, or unemployable are rejected. This is the distinction between the quantity of mates available, and the quality.

A survey in the United States found that, in every age category, available black women outnumbered available black employed men by two to one; they outnumbered black employed men, with earnings above the poverty line, by at least three to one (Crowder and Tolnay 2000).

Mixed marriages: Black husbands, white wives. Successful black men have disproportional rates of ignoring rules of homogamy and selecting white brides. The ones most likely to intermarry are those at the highest levels of education, income, and occupational prestige (Crowder and Tolnay 2000). For professional black women with high education and income, the mating gradient substantially reduces their pool of eligibles. Their prospects are further eroded when the most eligible men select themselves out of the pool by marrying white women.

Mixed marriages: Education. Every person who marries makes some compromises by accepting a person who does not meet all of their ideal criteria. Black women do tend to compromise to some extent in that, compared with white women, they are more willing to accept a husband with less education than themselves, a husband who has been married before, or a husband who is much older (Albrecht and Fossett 1997).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationshipsMarriage Squeeze - Social Dimensions Of The Pool Of Eligibles, The Mating Gradient, Sex Ratios: Measuring The Marriage Squeeze