International Women's Day (IWD) is an annual celebration around the world. It began in the early 1900s with a focus on ending discrimination against women: defending their right to enter the paid work force, vote, be educated, own property and run for public office. Now IWD has become a global day to mark the economic, social and political achievements of women. While almost everyone celebrates the numerous achievements in women's well-being and progress, we must acknowledge the reality: Those achievements had an unexpected and very costly price tag.
Women in the 20th century have enjoyed rapidly increasing opportunities and improved conditions from across the span of social indicators, including health, family, education, economics, attitudes and religion.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the median age of women was slightly higher than 22; now it is almost 37 - the highest level in history as deaths in childbirth have plummeted. Women have dramatically increased their high school graduation rates from a low of 26 percent in 1940 to nearly 87 percent in 2008. By 2007, women were earning 50 percent of doctoral degrees, nearly 57 percent of bachelor's degrees and nearly 61 percent of master's degrees. In 1973, women who worked year-round full time earned 57 percent of what men working year-round and full time earned. By 2007, the ratio was up to 77 percent.
With these advances, however, have come some major setbacks. In the United States, two major areas that present roadblocks to women's advancement are single motherhood and sexual promiscuity - cultural trends devastating to children's well-being that hit women hard, too.
While women in general have made economic progress, single mothers live in poverty at a far higher rate than married couples - five times higher. In 2007, the poverty rate for female householders with children under 18 and no husband present was 37 percent. Taking a closer look at the rates reveals that single mothers with children under the age of 6 have a poverty rate of 49.9 percent, and the rate for single mothers with two or more children under the age of 6 is an astounding 63.8 percent. The deterioration of marriages and families has produced significant disparities in how well women fare.
Amazingly, the promotion of sexual promiscuity often goes hand in hand with messages about empowering women. Some feminists argue that women "have a right" to be sexual "just like men" and, even, that being a "slut" is positive proof of women's power. However, the evidence shows that so-called sexual freedom has hidden costs; along with a loss of "power," women have paid other hefty prices. Women still bear the responsibilities and consequences of casual sex, with the difference between now and 50 to 100 years ago being that men are not pressured to marry their "baby mamas." Too often, the woman is left with only regrettable "choices" - too many choose abortion, many living with guilt and regret, while others choose single motherhood with its substantial risk factors for children and unrelenting stresses on the mother. Too few choose adoption.
Casual sex also leads to sexually transmitted diseases. Though modern medicine has made these less disastrous, most are incurable and highly contagious; they can leave women with a lifelong disease, many of which can make them sterile. Sadly, STDs are rampant among young adults and increasingly so among teens. So, while many celebrity feminists and the entertainment industry promote recreational sex as empowering for women, nothing could be further from the truth.
Today's young women are encouraged to go to school and have a career. They are often told that they don't need marriage to be fulfilled. As a result, marriage rates are less than half what they were before the sexual revolution in the 1960s. Young women, who still want to "have it all" and dream about settling down with "Mr. Right," postpone marriage and childbearing until later in life. The National Marriage Project reports that women married at about age 20 in 1960, but now the average age is 26. In the meantime, far too many of those young women, according to the Census Bureau, have casual sex with a median of 3.3 partners, or they cohabit, a practice that has dramatically increased over the past 30 years, significantly impairing their ability to bond.
So, while the 20th century provided many new opportunities for women, especially in the United States, those benefits had negative impacts on women's chances for marriage and a family. There is much to celebrate on International Women's Day - it has indeed been a century of progress - but that progress came at a very high price. Most of today's promiscuous young women have no idea that they are running up a bill that eventually will have to be paid, with exorbitant interest fees attached.
Janice Shaw Crouse is director and senior fellow for the Beverly LaHaye Institute at Concerned Women for America.