Much to the chagrin of the mother-in-law joke card industry, marriage has never been less popular. But why? For many women, when you consider the non-financial facts of the modern marital arrangement, getting hitched just isn't a wise economic decision. You might say that shopping for a husband is sort of like shopping for an apartment in New York City — finding one that's worth the outrageous price takes a long time, and most of the good ones are taken by old people who refuse to die.*
The old hacky comedy trope that women are eager to tie men down and force them to put babies in them doesn't bear out if you actually put it to the test, as a smattering of recent studies analyzing the economics of mate-picking have indicated. Writes my imaginary professor wife Nancy Folbre at the Times,
As a contractual commitment, marriage has a price. It offers both costs and benefits to potential partners. The contract involves commitments for financial support and family care on terms that can be completely egalitarian.
But the terms can also be more advantageous to men or to women. For example, Anglo-American law traditionally gave men greater rights than women in marriage, and some religious traditions today encourage wives, but not husbands, to promise obedience.
Back in the good old days, where men were men and women wore frilly aprons to church, marriage made all sorts of sense for both parties. For men, having a wife meant having a companion who would take care of housework and mother the shit out of their seed, and for women, having a husband meant having access to stability and breadwinning and lawnmowing and gutter cleaning. But now, women are earning money, just winning bread and scones and all sorts of yeast-based baked goods left and right, and the men they're married to still expect them to continue to hold up the outdated end of the marriage bargain. If the women are winning all the bread AND having children AND being expected to clean up after the children, then what's the point of having a man around? It's like 'THE SECOND SHIFT' NEVER GOT WRITTEN.
So, as it stands right now, here are a bunch of things we can shop for (LADIES BE SHOPPING!) that are better bargains than husbands:
- a monthly public transportation pass, especially if you're commuting via bus or train most days
- a properly fitting black blazer made out of high-quality material
- membership at a gym with a good vibe
- a stand up KitchenAid mixer
- standing in line for 5 hours waiting to get into that museum exhibit everyone's been talking about
- orchestra seats. It will hurt a little when you buy them but trust me when it comes time for the show you'll be glad you're so close to the stage.
- getting up at 6:30 to wait in line for goddamn cronuts
- a pedicure every few weeks
- an IUD
- bamboo floor upgrades
- organic berries. Due to the thinness of berry skin and the potency of chemicals used in commercial agriculture, you're eating a lot less poison if you buy organic.
- lobster rolls
- decent fucking running shoes
- Facebook stock (LOL internet joke)
Husbands are suddenly a crappier deal for women than cronuts because, as Folbre notes, traditional gender roles have proven much "stickier" than economic reality. As a result, when presented with the option to marry and suddenly be expected to do all this extra shit for very little payoff, many women are opting to just skip the whole circus altogether. This especially holds true for low-income couples who don't have the resources to outsource domestic work to The Help.
Women don't want to be with the sort of men who want wives, because the sort of men who want wives also want their wives to continue to behave traditionally, and women don't want to have to do everything. In other words, right now, we're in the midst of a truly epic BATTLE OF THE SEXES standoff, and until more men get it through their man skulls that marriage isn't an inherently dudecentric arrangement or women get it through their ladybrains that they should just give up on decades of struggle for equality so some guy's feelings about his own masculinity aren't hurt, marriage will continue to grow less attractive for heterosexual women. Either way, the Husband Bubble's days are numbered.
*I realize that the last part of that terrible Sex & The City cutting room floor joke doesn't make sense. Whatever.