Prof im­pli­cates the pill for chang­ing face of mar­riage

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

Among young, sin­gle Amer­i­cans, men still want sex and women still want love and com­mit­ment. But the rules of en­gage­ment have changed dra­mat­i­cally since the birth-con­trol pill and these rules “clearly fa­vor men,” so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor Mark Reg­nerus told a think tank on May 24.

There is col­lat­eral dam­age in this mod­ern par­a­digm, added Mr. Reg­nerus, co-au­thor of “Pre­mar­i­tal Sex in Amer­ica: How Young Amer­i­cans Meet, Mate, and Think About Mar­ry­ing.”

More than a few women who plan to marry and have chil­dren be­fore age 40 will not be able to ful­fill those plans, he said. And men are be­com­ing ob­so­lete to women, es­pe­cially those who were taught to rely only on them­selves.

The ro­man­tic lives of young Amer­i­cans are of peren­nial in­ter­est be­cause this is how the next gen­er­a­tion is formed and reared.

Amer­ica re­mains a “mar­ry­ing” coun­try. In 2009, 55 per­cent of Amer­i­cans older than 15 had been mar­ried at least once, a re­cent Cen­sus Bu­reau re­port said.

But there have been sig­nif­i­cant changes on that path to mar­riage: In 1986, for in­stance, only 27 per­cent of women in their late 20s were still un­mar­ried. In 2009, this jumped to 47 per­cent, the cen­sus re­port said.

Also, men of all races were un­likely to be mar­ried un­til their 30s, with black men wait­ing the long­est, ages 35 to 39, to walk down the aisle.

The changes in sex­ual norms hap­pened largely be­cause of the birth-con­trol pill, Mr. Reg­nerus told the “Sex­ual Eco­nom­ics” fo­rum at the Her­itage Founda- tion.

Be­fore the pill, the Univer­sity of Texas pro­fes­sor said, sex and mar­riage were closely linked. If a young man wanted to have sex with a young woman, he had to “pay an el­e­vated price” for it, with a mar­riage pro­posal, if not mar­riage. The young woman, in turn, got a se­ri­ous com­mit­ment from the young man in ex­change for her sex­ual fa­vors.

But the pill ended that ex­change rate, he said. Now sex is con­ducted with­out mar­riage, and “the price of sex is pretty low” - low-com­mit­ment or no­com­mit­ment sex­ual hookups are com­mon, while high-com­mit­ment mar­riage is post­poned, some­times for decades.

Thus, a mi­nor­ity of women in their 30s who are sin­gle will not be able to marry as eas­ily as they may have planned, he said.

The new sex­ual econ­omy isn’t work­ing well for many men ei­ther, noted Man­hat­tan In­sti­tute scholar Kay Hy­mowitz, au­thor of “Man­ning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys.” As women have be­come more ed­u­cated and fi­nan­cially au­ton­o­mous, they have been taught to “de­pend on no one,” she told the fo­rum. As a re­sult, men are no longer viewed as es­sen­tial to the wel­fare of a fam­ily.

Hanna Rosin, co-founder of Dou­bleX web­site and writer for the At­lantic, agreed that “sex­ual scripts” have in­deed been re­worked, but she won­dered if peo­ple are striv­ing too hard to main­tain a mar­riage ideal that doesn’t match re­al­ity. Maybe we should “lay off the word mar­riage for a while,” she sug­gested.


This used to be the norm: An Amer­i­can woman walks down the aisle with her fa­ther on her wed­ding day.

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