Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Single's Paradise

The New York Times has reported that for the first time, a majority of women are living without spouses. 51% of women, according to the times, are living single for various reasons. Perhaps they are divorced, separated, widowed, temporarily living part (he is working out of town, in the military, etc), or never married. The article claims that this may have ramifications of social policy, but doesn't elaborate. So I would like to.

For starters, we live in a society that is built completely around marriage. Work hours, social security benefits, taxes, school hours, etc. are all built around the idea that people are married, that one someone is staying at home to care for children. Women and men have managed to adapt by hiring nannies, paying for day care, etc. But with 51% of women living single and some 47% of men doing so, we may be at the point where we have done all the adapting that we can and now we have to rethink how we organize our society.

The time is coming when we will have to focus more on telecommuting so that everyone can have the option of working from home with flex hours. This would allow people to be home to care for family members in between preparing legal briefs, editing manuscripts,etc. To do this, we would have to resolve the net neutrality problem. Telecommuting would be facilitated by the installation of the promised fiber optic lines that could deliver internet speeds 40-60 times faster than what we now have, making teleconferencing much more efficient.

Schools may have to start thinking about extending their day. That would have the added benefit of increasing much needed instructional hours. That would also mean we'd need more teachers to help cover the day. Elementary schools may have to be organized more like high schools, where you have specialized teachers teaching single subjects with built in prep periods. Or hey, how about publicly funded pre-schools, like in Europe. (I am waiting for RBR to tell us of the Scandinavian paradise in this regard).

Our tax system would have to change so that single people without children aren't hit so hard in the wallet every April. Our social security system will have to change. Wives are entitled to a certain portion of their husband's social security if he dies. My mother took my dad's because it was larger than her own since she didn't work so many years. But with more and more women working, that type of system can be scaled back. And women shouldn't be penalized for taking time off to rear children. People over a certain income bracket should not be eligible for social security. Why should Oprah Winfrey get social security? I am sure she asks the same question,

Housing would have to change. Instead of 2000 SqFt homes, maybe we could have more condos and apartments available for purchase, or smaller houses as fairer prices for single dwellers. Maybe food processors will create smaller packaging so that I don't end up throwing out half of what I buy because I can't eat it fast enough.

Those are just a few things that I can imagine changing if indeed we were more willing to adjust to the new realities.


Anonymous said...

Scandinavia's paradise (there are 3 countries in this group but they are very similar in this) is also built around the idea that someone is taking care of kids but it is flexible enough to accomodate single parents of either gender. Maternity and Paternity leave laws are quite generous and can even allow for up to 6 years of reduced hours at full pay!

I totally agree with US West about the food packaging sizes at the grocery store. I often end up eating about 3/4 of something and then pitching the rest in the trash.  

// posted by RBR

Anonymous said...

So long as married people exhibit much more political activity than single people, nothing is going to change. Single people are heavily skewed to the younger end of the age spectrum, as is non-voting. I presume the market is driving packaging sizes. Married people do more cooking than single people.

As a recently married person, let me remark that I am observing first-hand how marriage changes my status in society. Saying "I have to do X because of my girlfriend" will get a disapproving look from a boss. Slacker? Too interested in having fun? Saying, "I have to do X because of my wife..." means that I'm a good family man. Very approving behavior all around. The only thing better would be dropping the "B" bomb ("baby").

Needless to say, this is also terribly sexist. I get points for playing the old-fashioned sexist card, e.g., "My old ball and chain yadda yadda." Pathetic.

An urgent telephone call from "my wife" will get inside the darkest, most secret meeting. Taking that call will not be considered a dereliction of corporate duty. The same for a girlfriend would not work.

I get enormous sympathy and help from customer "service" people by prefacing any request, however unreasonable, with, "My wife is insisting that I...."

And my car insurance rates dropped dramatically, as if I suddenly started driving better now that I am married.

I think this is appalling behavior. The obligations of family or friends deserve as much respect as those of a spouse. This, of course, is why people oppose gay marriage. They don't want to give gay people this kind of respect... ever.


// posted by LTG

The Law Talking Guy said...

Making sure everyone is eligible for Social Security creates enormous public support for the program. The financial benefit from cutting the relatively small number of Oprah-rich recipients off the social security rolls pales, I would suggest, compared to the political harm it would do to the program.

That being said, I don't understand why there is such a low cap on social security. After about $90K in income, you pay no more social security. I favor raising that to $250K and reducing the percentage from 6.5% to, say, 5%.

Anonymous said...

LTG, the Dems agree with you on raising the cap. We will see what comes.

I would point out that the NYT article stresses that these singles are across the age and income spectrum. They are among the voting age population. So I wouldn't discount their voting. In fact, my guess that this is a demographic that has gotten less attention than it deserves just because of the very misperception that you describe. 

// posted by USwest

Anonymous said...

We've meandered a bit off topic, but the Social Security cap is an interesting question. An older article from 2005 discusses the possibility of changing the cap. Here is what the article says (I am quoting):

"Under one scenario, actuaries looked at eliminating the cap on taxable income altogether while guaranteeing that the benefits wealthier workers received when they retired reflected the extra money they had paid into the system. The analysts said that change would extend the life of the Social Security trust fund from 2042 to 2075.

"Under the second scenario, the actuaries again considered eliminating the tax cap while not compensating wealthier workers in benefits for any money they contributed to the system over the $87,900 cap. With that change, the analysts said the trust fund would remain solvent beyond 2075 but that its reserves would be declining...

"The CBO also recently analyzed the amount of money that raising the $90,000 cap could bring in, and its estimate is lower. The CBO found that if workers paid Social Security taxes on up to $190,000 of their earnings, the change would generate about $581.1 billion over 10 years -- an average of $58 billion each year."

In other words, it's a good plan that would solve any Social Security issues as far as anyone can reasonably foresee. Oh, and the article also noted that

"In an early February [2005] survey by Harvard University, the Kaiser Institute and The Washington Post, 81 percent of the respondents agreed that Americans should have to pay Social Security taxes on earnings over $90,000; only 18 percent said no."

Anonymous said...

USWEst - I assume that the dynamics still show that the # of singles is highest at age 18 and declines steadily until about age 50, when it begins to rise again with widows and divorces. The article mentions "Between 1950 and 2000, the share of women 15-to-24 who were married plummeted to 16 percent, from 42 percent. Among 25-to-34-year-olds, the proportion dropped to 58 percent, from 82 percent."  

// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

Like LTG, I'm floored with how marriage makes some people say things like, "Gee, you're a grown-up now." Yes, rational adult decision-making begins with registering for china, especially bone-china gravy boats.

I'm also disturbed by the sexist comments that I can only classify as "Thag bring home mammoth now, Uta can stay in cave." It's galling that most of these comments come from women I know, women with careers and expensive educations who should know better than to think that someday a prince will ride up on a white horse and give them a six-bedroom duplex on Park Avenue. I didn't get married in order to ensure financial solvency. To paraphrase Peggy Hill, I'm a little busy living here at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

One of the things that this article doesn't mention is that a very high percentage of women (much more than 51%, I think) will spend some portion of their life alone, either by divorce, widowhood, or simple geographical separation from a spouse. Women and girls have to be prepared to be the captain of their financial ship, even under the best of circumstances.

As someone who occasionally telecommutes, I would be thrilled with a faster connection and an easier way to get into my work network (not that I'm holding my breath).

One thing I think that employers have to be more mindful of is what I think of as, "flextime by bad management." Single people have elderly relatives, people without kids have to go to the dentist for their own darn teeth, and nobody really wants to be in the office at 8pm on Friday night. As a society, I think we need to reassess how we value work and the people that do the work.

-Seventh Sister  

// posted by Anonymous

Anonymous said...

LTG, I understand the dynamics. I am just saying that single people, especially those in their 40ths and increasingly in their 30s vote. It's harder in tehir 20s because often they are moving around so much, and they don't get how it affects them yet. And don't forget the 47% of men livign single.

I agree with 7th Sister. I structured my life around the idea that I would not become financially dependant on anyone. We are the generation of divorce and latch key. Anyone who thinks that they can depend fully on anyone else is blind.

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

USWest writes, "Anyone who thinks that they can depend fully on anyone else is blind."

Ah... rarely has the bitterness of an age been expressed so in so pithy a manner. Well said.

I don't agree with this sentiment in full--but then, it has already been established that I am somewhat of a romantic. I believe rather that there are people upon whom one can depend fully... if only for a while... but part of one's responsibility in a relationship is that one should never place such a burden upon the other.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, interesting topic we've gotten into, especially in mind of my recently (finally!) getting hold of the Female Eunuch to have a look through (slightly different bent I know), and my current situation (whereby I am setting myself up for several months travelling with my lovely man, who is more financially established than I).

As those who've met me tend to realise, I'm a woman. As most who know me know, my parents divorced in the most hideous manner, and I paid in full for my entire university education (inc accom), and have paid for everything since, myself. Which is cheaper (the uni bit) in the UK than the US, but still pretty daunting at 17.

From all this, I learned never to rely on anyone else to provide for me, to sort out my money myself, to work hard to provide for myself, and, probably, to become a bit of a scary overly-independent 'sorted' type of woman in some people's eyes (I worked with nerds, I think I scared some of them).

However, throughout it all, I've still somehow retained my romantic streak - I want to believe Dr.S's view of depending, I just can't quite let myself live it yet - the idea of financially depending on someone else, even for a little bit, rather terrifies me still...

As far as USWest's statement that we live in an age of divorce goes - I have a whole helluva lot of feelings on this one. Granted, there are genuinely unhappy people who in years past would've been trapped in miserable marriages due to social convention (for example battered partners with no escape), but I can't help thinking that there is more divorce now simply because it's easier - some people seem to enter into marriage without thinking it through because they know they can easily get out again (Britney would be an extreme example I guess), and/or just throw in the towel the minute it gets difficult, rather than working at it.

Briefly back on topic, I've lived alone both when single, and when in a long distance (Aus-UK) relationship (happily now Aus-Aus). Housing wise, I don't know what houses are like in the US, but the thing that strikes me about 2-bed places in both UK and Aus is that the second bedroom is virtually always tiny - definitely set up for a couple plus little one, not two housemates (current personal grumble - I'm looking for a place to move into). 

// posted by Pombat

Anonymous said...

Pombat writes thoughtfully about the reasons why improved access to divorce make sense, but adds that she still, "can't help thinking that there is more divorce now simply because it's easier." She mentions two consequences: because the risk in starting marriage is lower, so the barrier to entry is lower (ill-conceived marriages); and because the risk in ending marriage is lower, so the barrier to exit is lower (too little commitment).

I have two comments. First, I suspect that many of the growing "single" demographic are people who have never married at all (though I have no data to support that). For every Britney Spears there is a couple in their thirties who have purchased a house together and perhaps even had children and remain unwed. Perhaps some are avoiding the whole marriage thing altogether. I wonder where that leaves us...?

Second, although I understand the idea about people "throwing in the towel" too early, almost every breakup and divorce among those I know has probably been too late. So of the two aspects Pombat mentioned, I suspect the lower barrier to entry is more the reason for the high rate of divorce.

Oh, one more thing: LTG's comment about the difference in societal attitudes toward someone who caters to their girlfriend's needs as opposed to their wife's is fascinating. I had never thought of that before. I wonder how that might interact with gay marriage...

Anonymous said...

Interesting, all these ideas. In the US, all bedrooms are small, especially in the newer homes. You may have a master bedroom (very large) and several small ones for home offices, work out rooms, kids, etc. The market dictates that the more bedrooms and bathrooms the more you can sell or rent a place for.

Getting out of a marriage difficult. I suspect, though can't support it, that married people have higher incomes since two are working and more expensive lifestyles. Leaving a marriage for either party usually means sacrificing a certain lifestyle. Depending on the state one lives in, the way property is divided can also be daunting to consider. If there are children, the whole custody issue is something to consider. So divorce is onlt easy to do I would think, if you had little property and no children.

Basically, people have more choices these days.

In the case of the NYT study, single was defined as living alone, not "never married".


// posted by USwest