June 4, 2006

The likelihood that a single 40-year old woman will marry....

It's not 5%, as Newsweek announced back in 1986. It's 40%. Newsweek now admits it was wrong. The statistic, we're told, was distorted by the failure to recognize that women would marry later in life than they had in years past.

The statistic itself became a vital part of pop culture:
In "Sleepless in Seattle," the character played by Meg Ryan informed a co-worker that the terrorist statistic was not true. The co-worker, played by Rosie O'Donnell, responded, "It's not true, but it feels true."
(Fake but accurate!)

I wonder if the fake statistic itself changed behavior. If you think your chances are slim, you may accept a mate you would have rejected if you believed there would be more options down the road. A great deal of pressure was created, urging women not to "forget to have children." And yet it's also likely that some women would give up and think: I'm 35 and not married, so I need to focus on trying to accomplish something that's within reach.

I really do wonder how much pop culture, including pop statistics, changed us and how it changed us. How much more powerful than feminism was all that? ... is all that?

16 comments:

Dave said...

Some would say feminism is pop culture.

Dave said...

I should clarify my statement.

Some, for example, see Virginia Slim's "You've come a long way baby" series of ads as an exemplar of female independence. (Others, probably correctly, in my opinion, see it as mere advertising.)

Then there's stuff like the Vagina Monologues, wherein it is apparently the height of female emancipation to talk about vaginas on a stage.

Then, of course, you have things like Laverne and Shirley. Feminism seems inextricably linked with pop culture.

Chris O'Brien said...

Oh great. Just great. What next? I suppose the patriarchy is next going to tell us that its not true that only 2% of rape allegations are false or that there's not an epidemic of violence against women on Superbowl Sunday.

tiggeril said...

What's this I hear about the moon being a lump of rock, and not a dairy product?

amba said...

Things like feminism are the official version, and pop cultue is sort of like collective gossip -- the subversive commentary in the margins, the real subtext, the place where people both process and resist solemn ideas about how things "ought to" be. Pop culture is the intestine where grand ideas about social change are digested, and parts are assimilated and parts are unceremoniously rejected with loud, rude sounds.

amba said...

That fake statistic was so powerful because it hit the backlash within the psyche -- the guilt and fear of every woman who was ever told as a girl, "Don't sound too smart, or the boys won't like you." Problem for women is that the desirable rewards of life pull in opposite directions. For men, success also means getting sex, love, and kids. For women -- you can either have success OR sex, love, and kids. At least that's been somewhat true during the transition. To the extent that many men now find smart women sexy and find the nitty-gritty of parenthood gratifying (as well as exasperating and humiliating), it's somewhat better.

PatCA said...

The media publish anything that will care people or generate controversy; that's the basic business model. Another good reason to cancel subscriptions and go out and embrace life on your own terms.

Sean said...

amba, if, like me, you were in the office on Sunday, instead of at home with your wife and children as I would like to be, you would not tell with such high zest the old lie that there are no trade-offs in male life.

Joe Baby said...

I suspect that for the women who have long quoted that stat as gospel, the prospects are way < 5%.

McKreck said...

The pop culture uncertainty principle: using Meg Ryan to make an obersvation alters the phenomenon being observed.

Ann Althouse said...

McKreck: LOL.

JoeBaby: A lot of the women who enjoyed citing the fake stat were themselves already married.

Ann Althouse said...

People who are married put an immense amount of pressure on singles to switch sides, but singles don't do that to married people. What's the deal with that? Singles refrain from promoting singlehood. And married downplay the downside of marriage.

PatCA said...

But I think married women believe that we do put pressure on them to be single and "autonomous" and all that. A lot of married women I know feel belittled by the women's movement, so maybe each side is getting back at the other?

Wickedpinto said...

Might have been about "first" marriages.

Only 5% of women get married for the FIRST time after their 40's might have been the actual stat, ignoring the other 35% who re-marry after their 40's.

Just like the "50% of Marriages end in divorce" appliece to ALL marriages. There are a fair few of people who marry numerous times, making it seem that 50% of all first marriages fail, when in fact the rate is much lower, or was much lower.

Noumenon said...

I only criticize marriage to other single people because I think it's such a risky, difficult exercise that it might not survive the pressure of criticism. Once you're stuck in a marriage, I'm rooting for you to succeed against the odds. And so, "Never tell me the odds."

Kelly Burgess said...

I'm with Noumenon. Not literally of course because I'm 41 and single. All does feel risky in some senses, and I'd agree, it's best not to know what's "going on" in media terms. All we can know is what's going on for us individually really, figure out a way to be at peace with what we've got and not blame others or ourselves or our time in history for what we don't. But is being 40 and single so bad? Pretty much but it's far less lonely and sad than, say, being married and lonely and sad (at any point). Yar, experience.