Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Answers

Here are the research-based answers to the questions I asked in my previous post. It's Saturday and I don't feel like digging up all the citations, but if someone wants them drop me an email and I'll be happy to give you that info. 

In the meantime, I think you'll find it interesting to look at what the science has to say versus what you and the other commenters believe to be true - especially when contemplating why that might be the case.

1. How do the infertility rates compare in women in their twenties versus in their thirties? 

    Infertility rates in women in their twenties are no different from those of women in their thirties until you reach your late thirties. Interesting to note - fetal Down's Syndrome rates for women in their early twenties are higher than for older women. Second interesting note - women in their twenties also seem to have growing rates of infertility at younger ages. Some suspect that at some point it will equal the rate of the late thirties, making late twenties and early thirties the easiest time to conceive in a woman's life. 

2. When women are asked what brings them the most satisfaction in their lives, what is the #1 response?

Career. Every single time this question has been asked since women entered the workforce in huge numbers. The second highest f response is friends. Interestingly, spouse and children are often much, much lower on the list than one might suspect. ***Keep in mind however that this data is nearly always colored by the fact that most respondents are white, middle-class women with "careers" and otherwise nuclear households.***

3. Which group reports a stronger desire for marriage, men or women?

Men. For a very, very long time. There is data that suggests after the first time having sex with a partner, a surprising majority of men report their first thought as "I wonder if this means the relationship is really going somewhere." Men also report higher desire for children, and more of them, than women. There are much higher rates of men on dating service sites such as, and higher rates of personal ads placed by men in newspapers and magazines. Nowadays, the majority of women report that marriage is not a high priority for them, as cohabitation rates climb. 

What might surprise you - while marriage has been shown time and time again to have resounding positive effects on nearly all aspects of men's lives (socially, emotionally, financially, physically, etc.) and married men make up the 2nd healthiest, happiest group - marriage has the opposite effect on women. In terms of mental health issues, the two groups in America who are in the most trouble are single men and married women. The healthiest and happiest groups are married men and single women. 

Think about that for a second. Now think about the original question I asked you and what your answer was. For those of you who said women, what factors led you to that answer? Why do you think that might be?

4. How do women's prospects for marriage fare when they have higher levels of education and career achievement while still single?

They are better. Marriage rates in women compared to education creates a U curve when plotted. There are a bunch of women who get married right out of high school, and a bunch of women who get married in their late twenties and early thirties. The statistics can get a little muddled here based on agendas, though. You need to look at rates of "never-marrieds" to get an accurate number. And there are very, very few people in this country who have never been married. And of those who haven't? The majority are men. 

It seems to me that the reverse of the general belief is true - it is the men who have worsened prospects for marriage the older they get. Haven't we all been fed the idea that a man in his 40's who has never been married must have something wrong with him?

5. What effects do you think divorce has on women versus men in American society?

Emotionally/mentally: Women's mental health dramatically improves almost immediately. They initiate more divorces than men, report higher life satisfaction, and are less likely to say that the divorce was something they regret. Men, on the other hand, report plummeting mental health after a divorce. Higher rates of depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide attempts. 

Financially: In the short-term, women experience a mild loss financially while men experience a small gain. However, it has been shown that within 5 years of the divorce, women's financial status equals out (and in many cases exceeds) what they had when married whereas the man's financial growth tends to stagnate.

In all aspects, men have been shown to be affected much more negatively by divorce than women, including socially and physically. 

And finally, a question that occured to me today while I was putting gas in my car:

6. Why might women be told from a very early age that men are dangerous, only after "one thing," have sex drives that they are unable to control, want to avoid marriage, and are presented as a group that needs to be "tamed" by women?

This is the one question I don't yet have a full answer to. Those of you who were surprised by the answers I provided above - would you change your answer to #6 at this point? I want to hear if anyone has anything to add or change before I post my thoughts on this question. 


Mrs. CH said...

For those of you who said women, what factors led you to that answer? Why do you think that might be?

I said that because of my own experiences - I have had 5 long-term relationships (>1 year) and only one of them actually wanted to marry me :) Also, I think women are much more open about talking about this stuff than men.

Haven't we all been fed the idea that a man in his 40's who has never been married must have something wrong with him?

True - but I think older, never-married, women have the same stigma.

...would you change your answer to #6 at this point?

I didn't really know how to answer that question, so I guess I wouldn't change what I said! LOL

This is all very interesting though! The divorce thing makes sense I think, because women have a much better support system than men (in general), which makes getting over the emotional pain easier.

I've also heard before that single women and married men are happier than married women and single men. There was something to that though, that I can't remember...something about when/how the data was taken? I'm sure you know much more about this than I do :)

Professor Anonymous said...

My answers were completely consistent with yours (5/5!), but I still have no idea about #6.

leigh said...

i definitely believe #3. it was all my husband could do to not let marriage proposals slip out when we would drink, or during amazing sex, or pretty much any time his mental filter functions were somehow compromised. i found it amusing. :P

#4 is surprising to me, but i guess i know a lot of single and well educated women who intimidate men they meet with their success...

i have no explanation for #6. [shrugs]

Becca said...

"Interesting to note - fetal Down's Syndrome rates for women in their early twenties are higher than for older women."
This makes sense. My insurance company won't pay for prenatal screening for me cause I'm not over 35.

Toaster Sunshine said...

RE #3:
I had answered that women would want marriage more. This was based off of my, admittedly limited, experience of popular culture, which continually portrays women as seeking marriage and commitment.

However, when I think about it, I realize that a single man is in a precarious position by virtue of being single. A man's success is defined by his career, his material wealth, and his woman (speaking baldly). If he has the first 2 without the last, then he is still not successful while he can also be successful with the last even if he doesn't have the first 2.

My answer to #5 was based on my own observations. It doesn't surprise me that it doesn't track well across larger society.

And I wouldn't change my answer to #6.

Isabel said...

"And I wouldn't change my answer to #6."

Yes, Toaster Sunshine, I think you nailed that one ...I'm still chuckling about that.

I've been thinking along similar lines for some time, but I hadn't ever heard the idea expressed so explicitly and succinctly.

JLK, were these answers from the Susan Faludi book? I didn't take the quiz because I read the book. It was a while ago though. I imagine it must be somewhat outdated but it was an excellent book for the fact that she digs out the real studies, stats etc beind one media story after another; as you mentioned it's very thorough...really eye-opening stuff.

Juniper Shoemaker said...

This is meaty. I must return to this when I have more time to devote to my comments.

physicienne said...

hmmmm - i've been exposed to a lot of this material before, but it's always interesting to think about.

as for #6 - i can't really say that i heard any of that statement explicitly, but i have been applauded by older women upon responding to their inquiry of whether or not i was seeing anyone (no). every one of these women (and some married friends closer to my age) has expressed, essentially, that being single was 'smarter', and was something they wished they had done. in that sense, then, (and particularly in light of your answer to #3) it would seem that women could be passing on the messages in #6 so that young women might be happier and 'go farther' in their lives/careers than the older women were able to with the burden of a marriage/man/family. older men could be saying similar things because they remember what hellions they and their friends were when they were younger, and they don't want their daughters/nieces/... to get caught up in what they perceive in their older age to be bad behavior. i'll definitely stay tuned for your thoughts, jlk.

#4 surprises me, though - the small cross section comprising men i am interested in and men i don't intimidate the shit out of has been limited mostly by the latter, particularly when away from a university.

JLK said...

Great comments, everyone!

@Mrs CH - You said "I've also heard before that single women and married men are happier than married women and single men. There was something to that though, that I can't remember...something about when/how the data was taken?"

I'm not sure about this. I know there was a pretty big issue within academia surrounding the marriage prospects figures, but I've never come across any disputing evidence for the happiness statistics. It's kind of a catch-all statement to say that single women and married men are happier, because it's based on multiple metrics and studies, each operationally defining "happiness" differently. For example, the clinical studies investigate this as a quality of mental life issue, therefore lower rates of mental illness, depression, substance abuse, and suicide = "happier." Other studies use self-reports.

However, all of it is correlational only. We can't ethically investigate this experimentally. But the consistency of the correlation over time and the stable significant difference between the two groups makes it an incredibly strong correlation.

If you remember where you heard there was a problem with the data, please let me know so I can look it up.

@ProfAnon - I noticed that, are you secretly from the social sciences? ;)

@Leigh - LOL! Your husband sounds amazingly sweet. In terms of educated women and dating, I'm wondering about the women you mention. Are they in biomed or a similarly complex science? I wonder if maybe there's a bell curve here if you start adding in graduate education, or depending on the field that the woman is in. I could imagine a woman as more intimidating to a man when she is well-versed in areas that are stereotypically male-dominated. Interesting......

@Becca - I think that particular data is on the older side, and at some point I am going to look for updated research. For the moment I take it at face value considering the amount of alcohol and drug consumption, unhealthy behaviors, etc that teens and undergrads engage in. When I was an egg donor, they gave me this whole list of things I couldn't do or consume because they would make the eggs less viable. It is interesting to wonder if young women are able to inadvertently damage their eggs through things like binge drinking.

The comment about your insurance company is very interesting. I wonder what the rationale is behind that, and if/how exceptions can be made.

@Toaster - It sounds to me as though you are also informing your perspective on men through a cultural lens as well. Which is fascinating to me - seeing as you're a dude.

Why so fascinating? Because the majority of men I have ever known in my life, across all age groups and ethnicities, have wanted to fall in love more than anything else. To be sure, there are men out there who want to get married because it's the next item on the checklist of manhood, and there are also men out there who don't ever want to be "tied down." But I'd bet that those percentages closely match that of women.

Yet this group of men rails against the idea of being a "typical guy," much in the same way that many of us women hate the idea of being stereotypically feminine. I imagine that those men, rather than being the hormone-driven stereotyped high school male trying to get laid, were the ones who were secretly in love with their best female friend and had a difficult time balancing what seemed to be expected of them with what they really wanted. (This is turning into my promised post about question #6, lol).

Suffice it to say, I think many of us are subject to some social psych phenomena when it comes to this stuff, and I'll post about that very soon.

@Isabel - yes and no. Because of how old the book is, I'm trying to stick to the research that I know through my own work to still hold up in the current literature. But the things she includes that genuinely surprise me as I read I am also willing to put up here for the purpose of generating discussion. Those things will be labeled as such. The book has been great for creating a framework, giving a theme and coherence for the things I intended to post about in my gender series but couldn't seem to tie together in any meaningful way.

@Juniper - You're such a tease. I look in my email and say "Awesome! Juniper left a comment!" and then it's like "Hey JLK, I can't wait to comment on this!" and I'm like "Goddammit." LOL!

@Physicienne - I think you're onto something. Given all of the information regarding how women fare in marriage, it certainly makes sense that they would try to encourage their daughters to avoid it. I'm going to have to look into this, because I imagine that education and socioeconomic status has something to do with it. My mom shocked me several years ago or so by saying, "I always thought you wanted a man who would take care of you" in response to my telling her that my husband and I were considering the idea of him being a stay-at-home dad. But my mom never went to college, and though she has worked her entire life it was never at a job that she loved. It was to pay the bills and take care of her kids and that was it. Once I got over being offended, I saw her comment for what it was - something she wished she had.

Vivek Malik said...

Wow, this blog has a surprising facts. I wish there were citations attached to it. Though, I do see there are sometimes more men than women on a dating site

Becca said...

Well, it's entirely possible young women aren't 'taking care of their eggs well'... although from what biology I know, the factors you mention would not actually affect germ line chromosomal issues (like DS), but more ovulation and/or implantation steps.

It's also possible that the women who wait until their 30s to have kids are more educated, and the fear of severe mental retardation of Down's syndrome is something they are more willing to terminate a pregnancy over.

Or it's possible that my initial reaction is spot-on and young women don't find out until too late to terminate, because their insurance companies won't pay for testing and/or their doctors don't advise it so heavily.
Like anything else, insurance companies weigh the benefits/risks of prenatal testing. I'm none-too-sure they account for such things accurately, but I'm sure my insurance company thinks it's saving money by not covering this for young women who are at low risk. There are exceptions if it is deemed 'medically necessary'- most commonly, if you've had one pregnancy with chromosomal abnormalities before.

I do know the rates of children born with Down's syndrome- particularly in the maternal over 35 age category- are going down. Despite the fact more women are waiting for that time to get pregnant.
For better or for worse, eugenics is quietly going on even without the ever-more-inventive biotechnology and eye color in vitro selection and other things we hand-wring over.

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