Twenty-Six Years Later, What Happened to the “Marriage Crunch” Generation of Women?

Newsweek magazine in 1986 stunned a generation of college-educated single women by reporting that they had a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than ever walking down an aisle clutching a bouquet of flowers. Those women are now in their late 60s. Would you like to know how they did?



The June 2, 1986 cover of Newsweek magazine cover carried the headline “The Marriage Crunch: If you are a single woman here are your chances of ever getting married.” Accompanying this eye-catching headline was a graph that illustrated the bad news for women who had spent their youth in a classroom when they should have been busy finding themselves a husband – their chance of now marrying was shockingly low.


The report warned that a college-educated woman who was still single when she turned 30 had an only 20% chance that she would ever marry. If she hadn’t married her Prince Charming by the age of 35, the chance she ever would fell to 5%. If, heaven forbid, a woman was still single at age 40, well the probability was incredibly small (although probably significantly more likely than being killed by a terrorist).

The fact that the article forecast that the probability of a single 25-year-old college-educated woman ever marrying was only 50%, in a period in which over 90% of women married at some point in their life, should have been everyone’s first clue that there was something horribly wrong with these predictions.

Thanks to the passage of time, and the availability of U.S. Census data, I can tell you now how many of these college-educated women who had dared to postpone marriage into their 30s and their 40s fared on the marriage market in the years following this publication.

By 2010, 75% of college-educated women who were exactly 30 years old and single in 1986 had married at some point in the intervening 24 years. 69% of women who were exactly 35 and single in 1986 married their Prince Charming and even the old maids, the women who were 40 at the time that Newsweek made these dire predictions, were more likely than not to marry before their 65th birthdays – 68% married.

If you are a woman over 40 and single I am willing to bet you have heard the line “more likely to be killed by a terrorist” over and over again. And I wonder how many women’s lives were affected by willingness of society to accept these ridiculous predictions.  

How many women, for example, rushed into bad marriages for fear of being left on the shelf? Or under-invested in education for fear that the cost of a college degree was the lost opportunity to have a family?

Personally, I keep a postcard size picture of the Newsweek cover pinned above my desk as a constant reminder of the power of statistical evidence to distort public perceptions in a way that is potentially damaging.  And for what purpose, to sell a few extra magazines?

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

4 reasons Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for universal basic income

In his final years, Martin Luther King, Jr. become increasingly focused on the problem of poverty in America.

(Photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Despite being widely known for his leadership role in the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. also played a central role in organizing the Poor People's Campaign of 1968.
  • The campaign was one of the first to demand a guaranteed income for all poor families in America.
  • Today, the idea of a universal basic income is increasingly popular, and King's arguments in support of the policy still make a good case some 50 years later.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Why I wear my life on my skin

For Damien Echols, tattoos are part of his existential armor.

Videos
  • In prison Damien Echols was known by his number SK931, not his name, and had his hair sheared off. Stripped of his identity, the only thing he had left was his skin.
  • This is why he began tattooing things that are meaningful to him — to carry a "suit of armor" made up the images of the people and objects that have significance to him, from his friends to talismans.
  • Echols believes that all places are imbued with divinity: "If you interact with New York City as if there's an intelligence behind... then it will behave towards you the same way."
Keep reading Show less