never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: politics

the math

The way we live now is more unsettled. A woman graduate is reasonably established in a career in her late twenties and ready to think about marriage and children. It can happen, but the hazards along the road are many and there is not much room for error. The most serious problems relate to time.

The most obvious one is biological clock time. Medical infertility is around 5% for 20-year-olds, 10% for 30-year-olds, and pushing 20% for 35-year-olds, so anyone leaving decisions to the late thirties is taking a risk. Mr Right has to be identified, got up the aisle (or secular equivalent) and convinced he wants children, in a very few years. Learned discussions of these matters in terms of people’s strategies, choices, values and risk aversions tend to make the implicit assumption that normal people have a number of choices of potential partners. Everyone really knows that is not true. Finding someone worth marrying who thinks the same about oneself is simply difficult, and one is not notably unlucky if one has no such chance in a five-year period. Again, a woman married at 20 can have another try if necessary, but a 30-year-old graduate has to get it right first time. It is a tall order, given that towards half of marriages end in divorce.

the helpless

Loved this comment and can totally relate after my long job search (not to mention all the hours I’ve spent on the phone with various corporations between my two moves):


You also notice this horrid bureaucratisation if you have the misfortune of having to look for a white collar job. There never is any contact person to email a resume to or to call; job seekers must go to the company website and “apply”. Those of you who have done this know how awful this has gotten in the last several years.

One is immediately confronted with a demand that you “create an account”. From here on, it’s like trying to log on to a CIA or NSA computer! Give email address; repeat and re input you email address. Then try your luck with choosing a username and password. It almost never likes your first choice of these! You then get a system message that your password has to have numerous criteria, that involve caps, numbers and some character like a #,%, =, etc. Then you will be prompted for the answers to 3 security questions! (Why all this NSA level of security walls and paranoia? Are they that afraid that some prankster or imposter will upload a resume, pretending to be you?!)

Once you get past those hurdles, now comes the fun part! You have to fill in a LOT of information (much of which should already be on your resume); pages and pages of it! Even simple questions like city, state and country have to be answered from a lengthy scrollbar list. You can’t just type in “USA”- you have to pick the country from a list of all the worlds nations, which always start alphabetically with Albania and Azerbaijan! Because the US starts with a “U”, you have to scroll way down. Given that most applicants are from the US, it would make sense to put the US first, above Albania. That however is too rational and makes life too easy for the applicant. The purpose of this exercise is to treat people like shit and make them jump hoops. See? You’re already being conditioned for the corporate life to come!

Same goes for a lot of other choices, like school. You have to pick your college from a scrollbar list. Even past employers often have to be selected from a lengthy list of corporations. People can’t be allowed to just input information on their own! Dates have to selected and created from a calendar menu; just typing them in won’t do! Phone numbers are also a problem; they have to follow a strict format. Some sites won’t let you type in the dashes, preferring you leave spaces instead. It helps to also know your country code! Some do ask that! Some will require you to take a profiling test right then and there, with the type of questions that are designed by psychology quacks.

If you leave out necessary information or don’t format something to their liking, one is confronted by an angry looking red letter message telling you to get with the program! Sometimes as “punishment”, all the information you typed in on the page gets wiped out in the reset and you can now re-input all of it again. That’ll teach you to follow their instructions!

After about doing five or six of these, hours have gone by and the person is exhausted and has had more than enough!

How did we become such a shit nation? How did things get this bad? How do we put up with it and why? It wasn’t always like this, but we all go on as if it always was. Some of us remember better times, but that’s a distant and irrelevant memory. We used to have a reputation for being a great nation; but now, the way we treat employees, job applicants and customers, our whole economic system in general- is not an ideal or role model that any other sensible country would want to copy. In a depression/recession where employers are sitting on a lot of cash and not too willing to hire, they are having a field day humiliating people in a buyer’s market for labor.

There’s no solution to this in sight; these corporations are beyond any political and popular oversight and control. That realisation causes me to feel more frustration than any bureaucracy.

the surplus

To put those developments in historical context, Daly notes that the last time the childless rate was one in five, it was in a generation of so-called “surplus women” born at the turn of the 20th century. “The fact it took a war with unprecedented loss of life and global depression to cause such an increase in childlessness gives you some idea of the social change we’re going through now,” she says.


Today’s “surplus women” are not war widows but young professional women for whom there aren’t enough suitable male partners—a phenomenon referred to in China derisively as “A1 women and D4 men.” Yet the blame invariably falls on them for being “too choosy,” a motif of the booming advice-to-female-professionals book genre, the latest being Susan Patton’s new Marry Smart: Advice for Finding THE ONE, in which the “Princeton Mom” advises women to snag their “MRS” in university as they’ll never have access to such an elite dating pool again.


We are all familiar with how a celebrity like Angelina Jolie can make motherhood seem endlessly easy and fulfilling. She has, of course, endless funds and numerous nannies.

In the same way, single and childfree celebrities can make that lifestyle seem appealing. They have fulfilling careers, relatively few money worries, lots of time off, and plenty of admirers.

The average woman has to pick her poison. Should she go the stressful, harried route of full-time career combined with motherhood or risk being a stay-at-home mom and hope her husband never deserts her? Should she forego motherhood and even marriage altogether and risk being socially marginalized and economically vulnerable?

Choices, indeed.

the bubble

I attended a dance class the other night that cheered me up. It reminded me once again of all the things I’ve been able to do because I’ve been childless. I have had an unusually rich life in many ways, with many twists and turns. It’s too bad so few people are interested because I could tell quite a few interesting tales!

Lately I’ve been one of the few women who has been privy to the economic disaster that still continues to play out behind the scenes in the public sector. Firefighters, cops, public works… all are still feeling the effects of the economic meltdown of 2008.

In the midst of this I attended a daytime event for stay-at-home mothers of small children. It felt a bit cloying to me, as if those women are living in a protected bubble that one day may pop.

the will

My enjoyment of the leave raises the ongoing question of why my circumstances are so rare and why we have such an inadequate system of parental support in this country. Throughout the pregnancy, I spent a lot of time on the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” discussion boards. Even though I wasn’t carrying AJ, I wanted to stay closely connected to the stages of pregnancy. My favorite discussions emerged in the third trimester when the mommies-to-be began to discuss their plans for maternity leave. The Canadian and British women were aghast at the American realities. They were shocked to learn how swiftly their American counterparts would be seeking childcare and returning to full-time employment just to make ends meet. We can make public policies that ease the burden on women, children, and families. We just need the political will to do it.

the muck

This unplanned, unexpected, preposterous potentiality felt like a strange gift — one with the power to lift me up out of the muck of midlife questions.

I wasn’t having a crisis, exactly – I had meaningful work, good friends, my health. I was just so tired of the same-old same. Past pursuits left me limp. I didn’t want to go to the bar, didn’t care about that new restaurant, this literary scandal, whatever next big thing. I had abandoned the dream of a four-star career, and from where I stood the prospect of a few years in babyland looked pretty good. Friends and family had braved that frontier already, had set up homesteads, paved the trails. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but what was? Hit me again, life — give it your best shot. I could totally be a parent.


HOBSON: So the pressure is even greater to have children?

SANDLER: I’ve heard that from a lot of people. I mean, certainly in the 1950s, it was a very different thing, when one was sort of understood to be a mother first. But it’s funny how after feminism, to a certain extent, and when we rely on women as such an important part of the marketplace, when we celebrate self-reliance and individual choice as hallmarks of what it means to be an adult in America today, this is the one thing that kind of refuses to die; that if women do not choose to have children, our culture does not know what to do with them. They must be lacking something. They must be non-nurturing. They must be refusing to participate in our norms.


HOBSON: What are the consequences that you learned about in your reporting, that we should be thinking about if many people are choosing to go child-free?

SANDLER: You know, it’s a good question, and there are a lot of different answers to it. You’ll find a lot of conservative economists who think that this means the end of our economy. There are some people who believe that this will be the end of our military. There is a lot of hand-wringing amongst people who believe that women’s purpose is really to have babies.

I am not one of those people, and I see a very different way of looking at this – which is that I don’t believe that we have yet really come to terms with what women’s freedom truly looks like, and yet even though we depend on women so much now in the marketplace and in furthering our culture, we have an expectation, and we don’t have policy to support that expectation.

The disconnect between the realities of motherhood and the realities of a modern working life are quite dramatic, and they’re especially dramatic in the United States. I recently published a book on what it means to have an only child, which is actually my personal choice, and so I’ve spent years now, talking to people about how these choices are made. And I have yet to find a single person who thinks about the larger social implications of their own possible birth.


The current job system is based on the idea that jobs redistribute wealth: capitalists made profits, the profit was distributed when workers got paid, and the workers again helped the capitalists to amass wealth. So it was like rain: the profits rose to the top, but then they came down like rain in the form of wages.

This is now no longer the case in the same way as it was before. It is very possible now for people to make very large sums of money without employing anybody, either by buying whole companies in leveraged buy-outs and piecing them out like a butchered cow, or by having factories that employ very, very few people.

One of the really frightful aspects of this situation is that we have something like a third of the population working at an utterly insane pace, and on the other side, close to half of the population is obviously underemployed. It’s crazy.

high prices

America’s top-heavy distribution of income and wealth, the Corse and Silva research details, has left many economically insecure Americans “unable to imagine being able to provide materially and emotionally for others.”

Amid this high-stress reality, adds Atlantic commentator Nancy Cook, marriage “is fast becoming a luxury good.” People who can’t afford the investments that help keep marriages together split and sink from the middle class. The nation becomes a more unequal — and lonelier — place.

For that loneliness, we pay a heavy price.

“Air pollution increases your chances of dying early by 5 percent, obesity by 20 percent,” as Aditya Chakrabortty observedlast fall in the British Guardian. “Excessive loneliness pushes up your odds of an early death by 45 percent.”

Those figures come from University of Chicago neuroscientist John Cacioppo, a veteran researcher on social seclusion. We have, he writes, created “a culture of social isolates, atomized by social and economic upheaval and separated by vast inequalities.”

If we want to find love, in sum, we need to go looking in more equal places.