AS Family: New right view – Peter Hitchins

Thanks to Harry for finding this about Peter Hitchens who shares a lot of the same views as the New Right. His ideas are also very critical of both New Labour and Conservative family policies:

About the Conservative Party – ‘they’re left wing and they don’t even know it’

About the family: Marriage needs to be re-privileged greatly’; ‘the blow to marriage was struck in all Western countries in the 1960s by divorce reforms’; ‘no party, certainly not the so called Conservative Party has offered to reverse these reforms’; ‘heterosexual marriage has collapsed’; 


The Myth of the Trophy Wife

Photo by Gary Willmore via Flickr.

When a pretty, young woman is seen walking hand-in-hand with an older, perhaps less attractive, male, accusations of a “trophy wife” situation are quick to follow. But this quick judgement ignores an important factor – pretty women can be rich too. In an interview with NPR, Notre Dame sociologist Elizabeth McClintock discusses her recent study that finds little evidence for the existence of trophy wives. She tells NPR that people typically couple based on similarities in income, looks, and education, thus:

If usually rich people marry rich people and pretty people marry pretty people, then having a pretty woman with no money marry an ugly, rich guy, that’s a violation of the usual pattern that people select somebody who’s a whole lot like themselves.

Numerous studies argue that the trophy wife phenomenon makes evolutionary sense, as poor, pretty women are able to trade their looks for money. But McClintock argues that these studies are wrong. NPR’s Shankar Vedantam describes her reasoning:

McClintock thinks this earlier work is wrong for two reasons. First, the earlier studies don’t consider this important variable, which is that pretty women might themselves be well-off. So if a woman herself has wealth or status, what you really don’t have is a trophy wife phenomenon. All you have is matching rich with rich…And McClintock points out there’s another confounding variable here, which is that beauty and wealth often tend to go hand in hand. And that’s because the wealthy often have access to better nutrition, better cosmetics…. If wealth and beauty are actually going hand in hand really often it could be that lots of pretty women might themselves be rich, which again means they might not be trophy wives.

In McClintock’s study of over 1500 American couples, she found that, after controlling for the income of both partners, “the trophy wife phenomenon effectively disappeared.” Our gendered assumptions of women’s roles in relationships have helped to construct this myth of the trophy wife, which says a lot more about our own biases than actual reality. Vedantam sums it up nicely:

If you look only at the universe of good-looking guys, you will also see that good-looking men tend to be with rich women, but we are far less likely to say, oh, look, trophy husband. And so of course that’s a reflection of what’s happening inside our own heads, not actual reality.

Not Just Attitudes: Marriage Is Also Becoming More Egalitarian

Husbands and wives who share similar levels of education now enjoy a lower risk of divorce than those in which husbands have more education—a trend consistent with a shift toward egalitarian marriages. This brief was part of the Gender Revolution Rebound Symposium first published July, 2014.

The prevailing view for the past several years has been that the gender revolution stalled in the 1990s. In that decade, there was a flattening or slowdown in many trends associated with progress toward gender equality: women’s labor force participation, women’s entry into male-dominated occupations, reductions of the gender pay gap, and egalitarian gender attitudes.

But recent research throws doubt on the conclusion that the gender revolution has stalled. Through the 1990s and 2000s, for example, one trend that did not slow was women’s increasing educational advantage over men.

This has created a major shift in marriage patterns: Men once tended to have more education than their wives, but it is now wives who have the educational advantage. This change in spouses’ relative education has been large: Only about 35 percent of couples married in the 1950s who had different levels of education were ones in which wives had more education than their husbands. For couples marrying in the late 2000s, the share had risen to over 60 percent. The percent of couples married who had different levels of education were ones in which wives had more education has risen from 35 percent to over 60 percent. And during the 1990s – the era of the stall in many trends – couples forming these marriages became less divorce prone. Up until the 1980s, marriages in which wives had more education than their husbands were more likely than other couples to end in divorce. But among marriages formed in the 1990s and later, this was no longer the case. Instead, couples in which wives have more education than their husbands are no longer at higher risk of divorce. And husbands and wives who share similar levels of education now enjoy a lower risk of divorce than those in which husbands have more education. This trend is consistent with an ongoing shift away from the breadwinner-homemaker model of marriage toward an egalitarian model.

Image from Jo Christian Oterhals via Flickr Creative Commons

Data on attitudes also suggest people are increasingly tolerant of relationships in which women have higher status than their male partners. In 1997, a Pew Research study found that 40 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “It’s generally better for a marriage if the husband earns more than his wife.” That percentage had dropped to just 28 percent in 2013. In addition, as the new paper by Cotter et al. shows, the 1990s may have been a temporary rather than a long-term stall in egalitarian gender attitudes.

But these findings provide no basis for complacency. Despite continued upward trends in some markers of gender equity, progress in one realm can be offset by the shoring up of male dominance in other realms. For instance, wives who outearn their husbands may compensate by deferring more to their husbands’ authority and doing more housework. (However, other research casts doubt on the finding that wives do more housework when they outearn their husbands, so the jury is still out on the issue.)

Finally, it is possible that, while wives’ educational advantage no longer appears to be associated with divorce, wives’ higher earnings are, despite the growing number of people who now accept the latter arrangement, in principle. Perhaps couples are now willing to ignore a wife’s educational advantage as long as her husband still earns more. In other words, the “line in the sand” that triggers a threat to men’s gender identity may have moved from a wife’s educational advantage to her earnings advantage. Research on the relationship between spouses’ relative earnings and divorce has been primarily based on marriages formed in the 1980s and earlier, and thus whether there has been change or stability in these relationships remains to be seen. But the attitudinal shifts in men’s stated tolerance for these relationships suggests that even the “line in the sand” for wives who outearn their husbands may be shifting.

The new findings suggest that the evidence for a stalled revolution may not be as uniform as it once seemed, but why the trends vary calls out for explanation. Social scientists

are still exploring why some trends move together and others do not and what changes represent real progress toward gender equality and which are offset by compensation in other areas.


Cotter, David A., Joan M. Hermsen, and Reeve Vanneman 2011. “The End of the Gender Revolution? Gender Role Attitudes from 1977 to 2008.” American Journal of Sociology 117:259-289.

England, Paula. 2010. “The Gender Revolution: Uneven and Stalled.” Gender & Society 24:149-166.

Gupta, Sanjiv. 2007. “Autonomy, Dependence, or Display? The Relationship Between Married Women’s Earnings and Housework.” Journal of Marriage and Family 69(2):399-417.

Ridgeway, Cecilia L. 2011. Framed by Gender: How Gender Inequality Persists in the Modern World. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schwartz, Christine R. and Hon Han. 2014. “The Reversal of the Gender Gap in Education and Trends in Marital Dissolution.” American Sociological Review. 79(4):605-629.

Tichenor, Veronica Jaris. 2005. Earning More and Getting Less. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Wang, Wendy, Kim Parker, and Paul Taylor. 2013. “Breadwinner Moms.” Pew Research Center, Washington D.C. (May 29), accessed 7/21/2014.

Where Have All the “Marriageable” Men Gone?

Both Apple and Facebook recently announced that they will cover egg freezing for their employees. The policies at both companies provoked a series of smart analyses of why they are simultaneously something to celebrate and challenge. For instance, Joya Misra writes, “In an environment in which many women face motherhood and pregnancy discrimination, policies that encourage women to freeze their eggs supposedly to delay parenthood, may actually discourage women from becoming mothers altogether. Access to paid leave and high quality, subsidized childcare would better support women’s decisions about having children” (here). Dr. Misra and others are absolutely correct that egg-freezing policies fail to do anything about the family-friendliness of workplaces and organizations.1 The existing data on people who take advantage of the specific technology Apple and Facebook are offering to cover for female employees, however, suggests that the lack of family-friendly policies is only one issue worth considering here. Among these issues are: cost of infertility treatment, same-sex families, and explorations of the other reasons reproductively healthy heterosexual women might pursue these options.

There are four obvious groups of women who might pursue this technology. The first are queer or lesbian women (see here, here, and here). The second are women with known or anticipated fertility issues (such as cancer treatment). The third group (and those who have received most media attention surrounding this issue) are professional heterosexual women who may be in a relationship, but don’t want to have children until they’ve reached a place in their career where they feel it will be least professionally damaging. The fourth group are single heterosexual women who might pursue freezing their eggs in the hopes of eventually meeting someone. The data suggest that the majority of heterosexual women pursuing this technology are single. As one maternal fetal medicine specialist and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology—Dr. Chavi Eve Karkowsky—writes,

“[I]f these women were partnered, but still wanted to delay child-bearing, they would probably pursue IVF with their eggs and their partner’s sperm, and freeze the resulting embryos. IVF and embryo cryopreservation is an older, more refined, and arguably more successful technology… What they want is a baby, yes, but with a willing partner for child rearing and a present father for their child” (here).

What Dr. Karkowsky suggests is that women’s decisions to freeze their eggs might have more to do with not feeling like they’ve found a “Mr. Right” (if they’re even looking for Mr.’s in the first place) than with a desire to focus on their careers. In one study of the reasons women pursue egg freezing as an option, women were asked to select any and all reasons to account for why they had not pursued childbearing earlier in their lives. Graph of Why Women Pursue CryopreservationWhile they were allowed to select all of the possible reasons that might apply, only about a quarter of the sample cited “professional reasons” for not having children earlier. The overwhelming majority of women (88%) claimed that “lack of partner” was the primary reason (see our adapted graph).2

This is related to an issue sociologists refer to as the “marriageability” of men. In the context of rising joblessness in low-income urban communities, William Julius Wilson suggested one consequence of shifts in our economy was that poor, non-white, urban men were disproportionately affected by the shift to a service economy. They’re not out of work because they don’t want jobs; Wilson found that they are out of work because the jobs simply don’t exist. And this has reverberations throughout their communities. One consequence was shrinking “pools of marriageable men” for poor black women (here). “Marriageability” has, thus far, largely been discussed as an issue of economic stability (having a job). And, as Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas more recently documented in Promises I Can Keep, poor women remain hesitant to bet their futures on men on whom they may not be able to count to provide economically for their families over the long haul.

More recently, Philip Cohen updated the outcome, considering the ratios of employed, unmarried men per unmarried women for black and white women. Cohen’s analysis suggests that poor women still have smaller pools of “marriageable” men, but also that black women face greater shortages of “marriageable” men than white women in most major metropolitan areas. Here too, Cohen relies on Wilson’s formula for marriageability: “marriageable” = employed.

Yet, when middle and upper-class women (the groups most likely to pursue cryopreservation fertility options) are asked why they are pursuing egg freezing, “lack of partner” is highest on the list. But many of these women must live in “partner rich” areas with favorable “pools of marriageable men” as traditionally defined. Surely some of this is the result of women finding men who might qualify as “marriageable” by Wilson’s standard, unmarriageable by their own.  As Stephanie Coontz has shown, women and men are asking a lot more out of their marriages today than their parents and grandparents might have.  As such, it might not be all that surprising that a more diverse group are delaying and forgoing marriage.  Pew Graph - EducationIndeed, as a recent Pew Report investigating the rise in unmarried Americans attests, the population of young adults who have not entered marriage is both growing and changing. For instance, the education gap between never married men and women has widened (see graph). Never married women and men are more educated today than previous generations. More than 53% of never married men today have more than a high school education; 25% have at least a bachelor’s degree. And while it’s a tough economy, Cohen’s analysis suggests that many of these men are finding jobs (often in larger numbers than women in many cities).

We suggest that middle- and upper-class women are delaying and foregoing marriage for many reasons, among them that the employed men they encounter are “unmarriageable” for other reasons.

We are currently working on an article collecting research across the class divide dealing with the “marriageability of men” hypothesis.  Research shows that the “lack of marriageable men” trend is best analyzed as twin trends occurring among different groups for different reasons. For instance, Wilson suggested that “marriageability” primarily had to do with obtaining a job—a task more difficult from some groups of men than others. But, middle- and upper-class women, by this standard, should be marrying in droves—employed men are not always the issue. Men who might be capable of financially providing are not necessarily all women want out of a relationship today.

For instance, in The Unfinished Revolution, Kathleen Gerson found that men and women across a range of class backgrounds said that they desired gender egalitarian relationships. Men were just as likely as women to say that having a partner able to find personally fulfilling work and to co-provide financially was an important part of what they hoped to achieve in current and future relationships.   Things get more complicated, however, when women and men are asked about their backup plans. What happens when those plans for dual-earning, emotionally fulfilling, egalitarian partnerships don’t work out? Women state that they are willing to confront a range of options in terms of fulfilling their family and career goals. Men, on the other hand, are most likely to say that their fallback option does not include the possibility of staying home themselves. Rather, men’s “plan B” appears to put women right back at “plan A” 50 years ago (see Lisa Wade’s analysis here). Indeed, in her interviews with women about their heterosexual experiences in Hard to Get, Leslie Bell finds profound dissatisfaction among 20-something women with their romantic and sexual relationships with men.

While only a small number of women currently choose to pursue oocyte cryopreservation, this issue represents a larger concern with which many women are dealing more generally. Freezing their eggs is one of many strategies heterosexual women might pursue as men are navigating new meanings of what it means to qualify as “marriageable” today.


Thanks to D’Lane Compton and C.J. Pascoe for advanced reading and comments on this post.

1 Whether or not assisted reproductive technologies (ART) are covered by insurance also varies by state in the U.S.  Some states mandate IVF coverage, for instance, while other states do not. In states that do not mandate coverage, it is a more expensive for employers to include coverage in their employee health benefits packages. So, this is not only an issue of “good” and “bad” companies, but one of state legislation that influences organizational policies as well. See here for state-specific policies.

2 It’s important to note that some social desirability bias is likely to rear its head here. For instance, some respondents may have felt that claiming “professional reasons” for not pursuing childbearing earlier may be perceived unfavorably by others.