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 Tuesday.
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.
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 no-commitment 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.
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Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor. Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...
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