WHY DO WOMEN COHABIT WITH UNEMPLOYED MEN?

by Maggie Gallagher

According to recent census data, marriage has hit new lows and cohabitation has hit new highs.

The Associated Press reports: "The recession took a dramatic toll on the institution of marriage in America last year, new figures show, with weddings for people 18 and older at the lowest ebb in over a hundred years."

Just 52 percent of adults said they were married in 2009, compared to 57 percent in 2000. For the first time in American history the proportion of adults age 25 to 34 who say they have never married (46.3 percent) is larger than the share who say they are married (44.9 percent).

Meanwhile, cohabitation in the U.S. rose 13 percent from 2009 to 2010 to an all-time high. Among people who moved in together this year, both partners were employed in just 39 percent of couples, compared to 50 percent of cohabiting couples who moved in together in previous years. Almost a quarter of men who began cohabiting this last year were unemployed, compared to just 14 percent of men who began cohabiting in 2009.

Here's my question: Why do women do it?

Why do women agree to take in, nurture and economically support men who are not gainfully employed?

I understand why men are willing to support women who do not work; I also understand why women do not marry unemployed men. But why in the world are women willing to do "everything but marriage" with men who they do not see as marriageable?

Especially since women living with men tends to lead to children in need. The majority of children born out of wedlock are now born to cohabiting couples. Sex every night considerably increases the odds of pregnancy, even with consistent contraceptive use. And the marriage-lite features of cohabitation tend to lull women's vigilance in that regard as well. (The group with the highest rates of contraceptive failure are young cohabiting women.)

Meanwhile for the first time in history we have a "mancession" -- an economic collapse where the hit to jobs has been biggest for men.

Item: In a taxicab, I meet a guy who fights wildfires for a living. He told me that in his department there is a strong preference for women candidates because they are historically underrepresented among federal firefighters.

I can understand that. But are men ever favored explicitly in similar fields where women dominate? Are we now preferring male social workers or nurses in VA hospitals in federal hiring because these fields have been historically dominated by women?

This is an urgent question, not just for men, but for the women who love men.

We once lived in an economy that favored men and disfavored women in education and jobs. Today, the majority of college graduates and even Ph.D.s are women.

How is this working out for women?

Not as well as we hoped. As Genesis points out, the majority of us are stuck with heterosexuality: "Your desire will be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."

As we increasingly produce economically (but not sexually) dysfunctional men, women are increasingly left with poor sexual choices: celibacy, serial sexual relationships or cohabitation with underemployed men. What seems out of reach is the kind of marriage the vast majority of our mothers could look forward to: marriage with a man who A. worked hard, B. was willing to give his income to his wife and children, C. believed in sexual fidelity (whether or not he succeeded), and D. didn't abandon his wife or children.

These men were often limited in other ways. They weren't necessarily good at meeting women's emotional needs. Men so seldom are. But they were men who got the job done, they did their duty, they were good family men within the limits of their ability.

Having abandoned the ideal of finding men like these, women do not seem to have inherited a world full of new men unusually adept at meeting their emotional needs. Young women appear increasingly stuck with fewer options, their mothering and nurturing impulses redirected at boyfriends having a hard time financially.

Let's be honest: This is called not having your cake and not eating it too.

(Maggie Gallagher is the founder of the National Organization for Marriage and has been a syndicated columnist for 14 years.)