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Marriage Squeeze

Interpersonal Consequences Of Sex Ratio Imbalances

If it is assumed that most adults are heterosexual, and that their first preference is to be in a stable and monogamous marriage, then the imbalance of sex ratios results in a substantial, nonnegotiable, and pervasive double standard. The implications of a male marriage squeeze are not yet clear, but the implications of a female one are pervasive.

Odd woman out. Women in a marriage squeeze are often treated as superfluous, described as being extras, excess, a surplus, or simply as too many, all terms that minimize their intrinsic worth. They have been euphemistically described as dyadically disadvantaged. The minority sex, female or male, has the unique experience of intra-sexual competition not only in early adulthood but also throughout the lifespan (Pedersen 1991).

Principle of least interest. A truism from social psychology, which reflects personal and political reality, is that: The person who has the least interest in the continuation if a relationship is able to dictate the conditions of the relationship. In a female marriage squeeze, men have a plethora of women who might be girlfriends, mistresses, or wives, a situation that applies to married men as well as the unmarried and the formerly married. With advancing age, men's pool of eligibles increases, whereas her small pool is made smaller still. Other things being equal, if marriage is a desired state, she will make more compromises than he does. To borrow a concept from economics, he exists in a buyer's market, while she is in a seller's market. What emerges is in effect a demographic double standard in role expectations, sexual norms, and power in general.

Antinuptialism: His. Men in a female marriage squeeze may find that marriage is not so much undesirable as it is unnecessary. If one relationship is less than perfect, other women are available. To take an extreme example, the marriage market in Brazil has been cogently described as: ". . . finding a balance by 'recycling' men through highly unstable informal unions" (Greene and Rao 1995).

Antinuptialism: Hers. If a woman is not able to find the kind of man she wants, or the egalitarian marriage she wants, she may withdraw from the market completely. The singles' subculture offers support and justification of a single lifestyle. The emergent attitude is summarized in an often-quoted aphorism: "It takes a hell of a man to be better than no man at all."

Extrafamilial roles. Single women anticipate a high probability of remaining single. Wives anticipate divorce without remarriage. Both are motivated to establish their independence with work roles. A cyclical effect is created: the greater the competence in extrafamilial roles, the less dependence on marriage; the less dependence of marriage, the greater the competence in extrafamilial roles. Taken to its logical extreme, the pattern emerging is that both men and women have, and expect to have, work roles, the only difference being a few years taken off for motherhood.


Additional topics

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