In its happy-go-lucky burial of marriage, entitled “51% of Women Are Now Living Without a Spouse,” The New York Times cheerily features divorcees and never-marrieds extolling the wonderful life that exists outside of marriage.
Citing Census Bureau statistics showing that only 49 percent of women over the age of 15 are now living with a husband, the Times quotes Brookings Institution demographer William H. Frey, who described the new number as “a clear tipping point, reflecting the culmination of post-1960 trends associated with greater independence and more flexible lifestyles for women.” According to Frey, “For better or worse, women are less dependent on men or the institution of marriage.”
Journalists can slant the tone of an article simply by stacking it with carefully chosen quotes. Just look at what the Times chose to highlight in its “who needs marriage?” piece:
“For many older boomer and senior women, the institution of marriage did not hold the promise they might have hoped for, growing up in an 'Ozzie and Harriet' era.”
· “Considering all the weddings I attended in the '80s that have ended so very, very badly, I consider myself straight up lucky.”
· “I'm in a place in my life where I'm comfortable … I can do what I want, when I want, with whom I want. I was a wife and a mother. I don't feel like I need to do that again.”
· “We do not see living together as an end or even for the rest of our lives — it's just fun right now.”
· “I'm just beginning to fly again; I'm just beginning to be me. Don't take that away.”
· “Marriage kind of aged me because there weren't options.”
· “Once you go through something you think will kill you and it doesn't, every day is like a present.”
After reading a story like this, who'd want to be married? Consider the women quoted for the article: of the four single women, two (32 and 45 years old) live in the East Village in New York City, one is 24 and lives on the beach in California with her boyfriend, and the last is 56, a never-married magazine editor in Houston. The other interviewees were three women in their late fifties who'd all been divorced after 30-plus years of marriage with kids out of the house. They were all thrilled with their independence.
Sugarcoating the troubling statistic in this way sets up the real point of the article, to promote the views of Stephanie Coontz, director of public education for the Council on Contemporary Families: “…there is no going back to a world where we can assume that marriage is the main institution that organizes people's lives.”
Coontz, an academic, has written books like The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, and Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage. She says “it is simply delusional to construct social policy or make personal life decisions on the basis that you can count on people spending most of their adult lives in marriage.”
Not once in the article did the reporter, Sam Roberts, seek out the opinions of married women, or those who enjoyed marriage when they were in it, who valued marriage or aspired to be married. Nor did he quote pro-marriage experts on the trend and its ramifications for children and society.
No balance. No recognition that much social science credits marriage and family as a crucial building block of a strong society. No, the Times just uses the statistic as a way to corrupt public thinking about fundamental American values and virtues.
Down in the