For my write-up today on Susan Faludi’s 1991 book, Backlash, I’ll use as my starting-point something that Faludi says on page 17:
“The mental health data, chronicled in dozens of studies that have looked at marital differences in the last forty years, are consistent and overwhelming: The suicide rate of single men is twice as high as that of married men. Single men suffer from nearly twice as many severe neurotic symptoms and are far more susceptible to nervous breakdowns, depression, even nightmares. And despite the all-American image of the carefree single cowboy, in reality bachelors are far more likely to be morose, passive, and phobic than married men. When contrasted with single women, unwed men fared no better in mental health studies. Single men suffer from twice as many mental health impairments as single women; they are more depressed, more passive, more likely to experience nervous breakdowns and all the designated symptoms of psychological distress—-from fainting to insomnia. In one study, one third of the single men scored high for severe neurotic symptoms; only 4 percent of the single women did.”
In my latest reading of this book, Faludi was attempting to refute a study by Harvard and Yale researchers that stated that there was a man shortage and that women’s opportunities for marriage decreased as they grew older. According to Faludi, the problems with this study were that they assumed that women usually marry men who are two-three years older than them, and that it only included 60,000 households. Faludi cites a study by Jeanne Moorman of the U.S. Census Bureau, which looked at 13.4 million households and found that, while opportunities for marriage declined for women as they grew older, the percentages for the chances-at marriage-with-age were much higher than the Harvard-Yale study indicates, and that college-educated women at thirty were more likely to marry than their counterparts who only had a high-school diploma. Faludi also cites the Census Bureau’s figures that there are 119 single men for every 100 single women.
The passage with which I opened this post fits into Faludi’s argument because it shows that there is not a man-shortage: that there are many men who actually want to get married. Faludi talks about how matchmaking programs had much more men than women, and so women were offered huge discounts. But Faludi states that the Harvard-Yale study scared single women to get more interested in finding a husband, for it convinced them that their opportunities to marry would dramatically decline as they got older. The message that they got was that it’s now or never!
Of interest to me was how the media and the Reagan Administration did not publicize or sought to suppress Moorman’s findings. According to Faludi, Moorman was told by Reagan Administration officials not to talk publicly about her findings on marriage because they were too controversial, and to focus instead on a study of how poor single mothers abused the welfare system. For Faludi, a number of myths are being perpetuated, while voices that prove those myths wrong are ignored or kept secret.
The passage with which I opened this post stood out to me because I’ve wondered if I’d be happy being married. I like my independence, but I can also understand why many men want feminine admiration, companionship, and support. At first, I wondered if Faludi was being cold: Does she think that women should be neglecting marriage, when there are plenty of us depressed men who need them as our wives? Faludi’s answer may be (and I’m guessing here) that there’s plenty of time for that—-that single women could someday desire marriage, and so men should wait.