January 20th, 2007
Apparently we’re no longer circus freaks. Or at least the minority. In case you’ve been living in a yurt, allow me to direct your attention to the New York Times report everyone has been talking about this week, the one that says 51 percent of American women now live spouseless, for what is probably the first time.
What does this have to do with work, you say? Plenty. As historian Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, points out in the article, “…it is simply delusional to construct social policy or make personal life decisions on the basis that you can count on people spending most of their adult lives in marriage.”
In October 2006, Coontz beautifully made this case in her Philadelphia Inquirer piece about how social policies revolving around the “married with kids” family unit should change. Here’s an excerpt:
Giving special privileges to married-couple households and denying them to the unmarried made some sense in the days when marriage played the central role in regulating sexuality and childbirth, redistributing resources to children, organizing the exchange of men’s wages for wives’ household services, supporting youth until they could move into jobs that provided health-care insurance, and caring for the ill and the old.
But marriage is not the only way people organize these tasks any more. Many of our assumptions and expectations are based on the world of the 1950s — a world that no longer exists. It is no longer possible to pretend that marriage is the only institution in which children are born and raised, the elderly and ill are cared for, youth are supported until they gain living-wage jobs, and interpersonal obligations are incurred. We can no longer design work schedules, leave policies, and housing complexes on the assumption that every worker has a wife at home to take care of “life.” Unmarried people increasingly are likely to have care-giving obligations, whether for children, aging relatives, or a live-in partner.
In other words, yes, give us those coveted flex policies in the workplace. Hell knows, parents and caregivers sure need it. But don’t stop there. Change workplace and government policies across the board to reflect the fact that most Americans spend half their adult lives unmarried. Singles and those in domestic partnerships of any sexual orientation deserve the same health benefits and tax breaks afforded married peeps.
Let me personalize it for you: If I was a single employee who suddenly found herself taking care of an ailing parent, I’d want my family of two to receive the same health benefits as my “legally” married coworkers. In fact, I know people in their thirties in similar situations who could certainly use the same health and tax perks their married coworkers and neighbors get.
What say you? Go on, dish. But play nice or I hit Delete.
Entry Filed under: The singles table