Score one for single women?

January 20th, 2007

bearded ladyApparently 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

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Janna Cawrse  |  January 23rd, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    I’m with you, even though I’m one of those married with kids folks with all the great bennies!

  • 2. Michelle Goodman  |  January 23rd, 2007 at 5:17 pm

    thanks, janna. yeah, sometimes i think i should just marry for health insurance. sad.

  • 3. Selfmademom  |  January 23rd, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    I totally agree with your points about being a single parent, however, what I took biggest issue with was the part of the article that discussed why women wait to have children- because they don’t want to limit their earning power. Another sad sound bite for us working moms out there who had kids young. I never thought twice I wouldn’t be able to earn more money down the road just because I had a kid.

  • 4. Michelle Goodman  |  January 23rd, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    thanks for chiming in, SMM. you’re talking about the follow-up piece the Times did, “Why Are There So Many Single Americans?” (or as I call it, “Why Are There So Many Offensive Stereotypes in This Article”?). here:

    first off, they start the article with a stupid joke about cat ladies that’s about 20 years out of date. and it is unfortunate, as you say, that they included the quote about women waiting to have kids b/c they didn’t want their salaries to level off. would have been nice if they had someone like Stephanie Coontz or the authors of The Motherhood Manifesto ( weigh in about how we certainly need more flex work policies at full-time jobs — and without the pay cut — so that mothers aren’t discriminated against through profiling, the mommy track, and the maternal wage gap.

    for those who haven’t read The Motherhood Manifesto, you may want to. pretty sobering social policy stuff. if you’re not fortunate enough to work in a high-profile job/industry, you often can look forward to lower wages than your childfree female coworkers, lower wages than you male coworkers WITH kids, and overall second-rate treatment in terms of compensation and hiring. nice! which is why it would have been cool if the Times had had Coontz or Joan Blades (from TMM) weigh in how policy/corporate practices need to change.

    also, SMM, would love to hear what your experience has been in terms of earning power as a mom, if you care to share. i know many haven’t experienced the leveling off of income, which is heartening to hear.

  • 5. The Anti 9-to-5 Guide &ra&hellip  |  January 23rd, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    [...] This comment thread reminded me that I had yet to post about a cool study released last week from the Simmons School of Management in Boston, about working moms who successfully negotiated flex jobs without giving up any pay. An uplifting excerpt: [...]

  • 6. Marsha Knight  |  January 23rd, 2007 at 9:11 pm

    I speak from the perspective of the single woman with no children who feels like a second-class citizen at work. I have always been expected to take up the slack for a coworker who leaves early to take care of child-related activities. Why is that?

    Regarding equal benefits: in 1999, when I first became an employee of a large software company in Redmond, I respectfully requested health insurance for my mother who lived with me and whom I supported. As a single woman, I thought it was a reasonable request, but I was told that health insurance was only for children and spouses of employees –not dependents–AND I should just zip my lip because it was never going to happen for parents, even ones you support. I never quite got over the inequity of the situation, particularly when the message was passed along to me by a manager who took three months’ paid maternity leave with each child.

    When my mother had several strokes and came back home as a paraplegic, I held down a full-time position as well as being my mother’s caregiver. When I needed to take some time, I had to document it and force the issue through the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides for a specified leave at no pay. The only reason they continued MY health insurance was because the act says they must. I was penalized at performance review time for taking the time, but, as my manager explained to me, I shouldn’t be allowed to use that as an excuse.

    I am not saying that single women with no children are the only ones with work-related benefit issues, but sometimes it feels like we are unfairly targeted.

  • 7. Michelle Goodman  |  January 23rd, 2007 at 9:22 pm

    YES, Marsha, this is exactly what I’m talking about in my post. I’ve long felt it was unfair that a parent could get health care for multiple family members, as long as they fell in the category of different-sex spouse and child, and that singles with special-needs family members got shortchanged those same benefits. (I am single, btw.)

    And if you work at the large software co I’m thinking of, that’s pretty interesting: From what I know, they DO have some of the best flexibility/benefits packages around. And yet from what you say, they (and obviously much of corporate America) have so far to go.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. Really appreciate it! And I’m very sorry about your mom.

  • 8. The Anti 9-to-5 Guide &ra&hellip  |  March 18th, 2007 at 10:14 am

    [...] That’s the opening paragraph to the cover story I wrote for “Gender F”, a Seattle Times section that came out today. The story isn’t anti-marriage; it’s pro-alternatives-to-marriage-if-you-so-choose and pro-marriage reform (as in, let’s stop treating lesbians and gays like shit, and let’s think about giving singles — say, the widowed midlifer taking care of her mom with Alzheimer’s — the same tax breaks and workplace perks as the married twentysomethings she lives next door to or works side by side with). I’ve already written how I feel about this here, so I won’t rehash it now. [...]

  • 9. Michelle Goodman  |  September 14th, 2007 at 8:37 am

    lynette, my friend diane mapes offers these suggestions:

    This might have some info:

    She can also root around on this site:

    And here’s one piece that might be helpful:

    There are two major orgs (which may have merged, but they both still have
    websites) — Unmarried America and Alternatives to Marriage Project (

  • 10. Paula Quick  |  October 27th, 2007 at 7:00 am

    I totally agree with the comment about a single employee being entitled to the same perks as their married colleagues regarding taking care of a suddenly ill parent. Unless you’ve been in the single person caregiver mode, you have no idea what it is like. Put being self-employed on top of all that and you have a double whammy, although it beats having to deal with a 9-to-5. I know, I’ve been there. An excellent resource to address the mental, emotional and spiritual side of this is:

    Love the title of your blog, by the way!

  • 11. The Anti 9-to-5 Guide &ra&hellip  |  November 4th, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    [...] If you’ve spent any amount of time on this blog, you know that I’m a champion of umarried singles and couples being treated the same as their married counterparts. Sometimes I even publish some writing on the topic. That’s why I was thrilled when Bella DePaulo wrote an entire book on the topic: Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, which is essentially a myth-busting, consciousness-raising, totally unapologetic take on singlehood. [...]

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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