Women Haven't Been Having It All Since at Least 1939

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Modern women face a stark choice: either give up their careers early to have loving families or die alone and be eaten by their pets. Women cannot have it all, according to many, including a fascinating and popular article written for The Atlantic by Ann-Marie Slaughter last year. Women must find a husband in college, The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto argued this week, "to take advantage of the simultaneity of their own peak nubility and their presence among an abundance of suitable mates such as they are all but certain never to encounter again." The alleged "hook-up culture" has only made it more difficult for women to interest men in commitment, since they can get so much sex for free. But we feel we must point out that this modern condition is not modern at all. Women have faced these dire circumstances since at least 1939.

On January 27, 1939, the Associated Press grimly reported that a "sweet girl high school graduate" had a one-in-three change of getting married within five years. But if the sweetiepie got married immediately after finishing school, she was at risk for marrying later and ran "a greater risk of being divorced than she would if she did not work outside the home." The AP report was based on the work of social science researcher doing a study to find ways to "keep American youth from training for non-existent jobs and guide them into industrial channels which offer better opportunities for going to work. (Some things never change!) But for a different perspective on our modern women-having-it-all debate, the scientists' explanation for working gals' higher divorce rate:

"This is partly due to their feeling of independence gained from knowing that they are capable of earning their own living. Part can also be attributed to the changed living conditions occurring when both husband and wife are gone from the home all day."

Working women were more likely to divorced because they felt a sense of independence. They didn't have to stay married to jerks to avoid starving to death. This was a new idea back then. It's so old now we don't even think about it. If we want to get all nostalgic for an era when this wasn't an option, we can't just go back before the sexual revolution, to the 1950s. We have to go back even earlier, to the Great Depression.

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Side note: I must address another issue Taranto raised. If women picked their husbands earlier, Taranto says, "high-status men would face greater pressure to commit and a smaller pool of playmates in college and prospective wives later on. If that is sexist, then Mother Nature is sexist." I have seen other men make the case that Mother Nature is sexist, particularly Army infantrymen commenting on Facebook about how they don't want ladies in combat. But I have to ask, if Mother Nature is sexist, how do you explain testicles? The existence of such a vulnerable piece of anatomy — the warrior sex can be instantly incapacitated by a mere "nut tap" — makes it impossible not to wonder if maybe Mother Nature is sexist against men, or at least, if our faith in an intelligent designer is misplaced. I eagerly anticipate reading some concerned magazine articles on this topic.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.