Work­place: As more and more women wait to marry, it’s time to stand up for sin­gle ladies

A new book ad­vo­cates for the un­mar­ried.

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - News - By Re­becca Green­field

The work­ing woman gets a lot of mar­riage ad­vice. There’s Lean In, Sh­eryl Sand­berg’s man­i­festo for high achiev­ers, which ad­vises read­ers to find a sup­port­ive hus­band; Marry Smart has words of wis­dom from Su­san Pat­ton, aka the Prince­ton Mom, on meet­ing your mate in col­lege; and Spin­ster, a mem­oir by Kate Bolick, of­fers a road map for how to avoid the ball and chain. All the Sin­gle Ladies doesn’t be­long on this list, even though it takes its name from a Bey­oncé song that tells men to “put a ring on it.” The book from New York mag­a­zine writer Re­becca Trais­ter avoids defin­ing sin­gle women as women who aren’t mar­ried. Rather, she sees them as a dis­tinct group with their own agenda—which, of course, isn’t news to them. It’s just taken this long for so­ci­ety to start catch­ing up.

The world is dif­fi­cult to nav­i­gate as a sin­gle woman; it’s made for mar­ried peo­ple. To­day only 20 per­cent of Amer­i­cans wed by age 29, and yet our work­place prac­tices have re­mained es­sen­tially un­changed since about 1960, when 60 per­cent of young peo­ple tied the knot. “By sim­ply liv­ing in­de­pen­dently,” Trais­ter writes, sin­gle women “face an ad­di­tional set of chal­lenges.” Un­til the mid-20th cen­tury, wives mostly stayed home. The work­place didn’t have to ac­count for what we now call work-life bal­ance: Men made money, and women took care of ev­ery­thing else. But as of 2011 there were more than 30 mil­lion un­mar­ried fe­male work­ers in the U. S. ( Not be­cause they’re get­ting di­vorced, ei­ther. The pro­por­tion of women younger than 34 who’ve never got­ten hitched is up to al­most 50 per­cent, 12 per­cent­age points higher than it was a decade ago.) Th­ese trends are con­cen­trated in cities, but they span classes, races, re­li­gions, and re­gions. Add in the gen­der wage gap, and the sin­gle lady’s po­si­tion be­comes pre­car­i­ous.

Sin­gle Ladies’ vi­sion of work­place re­form starts with equal- pay pro­tec­tions and a higher fed­er­ally man­dated min­i­mum wage— guar­an­tees that a woman’s la­bor isn’t dis­counted be­cause of the pre­sump­tion that she won’t be alone for­ever. It also calls for shorter work­days and guar­an­teed paid va­ca­tion—“If we want to ac­count for grow­ing num­bers of un­mar­ried peo­ple in the pro­fes­sional world,” Trais­ter says, “we must be­gin to also ac­count for the fact that it is not just brides, grooms, and new par­ents who re­quire the chance to catch their breath”— as well as fed­er­ally man­dated ma­ter­nity leave, fam­ily leave, and sick leave. Trais­ter stops short of at­tach­ing ac­tual num­bers to th­ese ideas. The book is more a dec­la­ra­tion of rights than a pol­icy pro­posal.

Not all of Trais­ter’s ideas are mere fan­tasies. Two- dozen mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, in­clud­ing New York and San Fran­cisco, have adopted paid sick leave, and Cal­i­for­nia, Rhode Is­land, and New Jersey man­date paid fam­ily leave. “Like a lot of things, when left up to states or mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, there will be very un­even adop­tion,” says Mary Tavarozzi, who leads group- ben­e­fit prac­tices at HR con­sult­ing firm Wil­lis Tow­ers Wat­son. Both Bernie San­ders and Hil­lary Clin­ton are run­ning on paid fam­ily leave, but Tavarozzi doesn’t think we’ll see a change at the fed­eral level any­time soon. Par­ti­san grid­lock and sim­ple in­er­tia are work­ing against it.

All the Sin­gle Ladies isn’t mak­ing a case against mat­ri­mony. Most Amer­i­cans marry at some point in their lives; Trais­ter did so in her mid-30s. More peo­ple, how­ever, are spend­ing a big­ger chunk of their lives solo. Mak­ing their lives liv­able in the mean­time, she ar­gues, gives peo­ple the choice to wed be­cause they want to, not be­cause they have to. <BW>


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