“If the country is to flourish, we must make room for free women, and let go of the economic and social systems built around the presumption that no woman really counts unless she is married.”
This is the closing statement of Rebecca Traister’s New York magazine February 22 issue cover story, “The Single American Woman.” The article, an excerpt from Traister’s upcoming book All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation , sparked for us a few epiphanies. Though a good percentage of the women we know are single well into their 30s and are facing issues unique to that reality, we hadn’t necessarily considered the fact that the current political system largely ignores and even rejects specific support of this demographic. Part of the reason the 2016 election is both exhilarating and terrifying to single women is that its results could make a huge impact—positive or negative—on their lives.
Single women are still very much outsiders when it comes to the political agendas of some of this election season’s most marquee players. (Especially in the minds of certain conservatives—ahem, Trump—who make outlandishly archaic, misogynistic statements almost daily.) But single women, or women who are delaying marriage, are no longer a minority. According to Traister’s article, in 2009 the number of married women in America dropped below 50 percent. Today, just 20 percent of women are married by age 29. Somehow, these numbers came as a shock, even to us. Nearly two decades after Sex and the City first aired, the single woman still feels more like a novelty than the norm. Single-shaming is such a pervasive part of American culture that even the Supreme Court isn’t above it. Weddings are a national obsession, and with “the big day” so prized it’s difficult to imagine that the actual institution of marriage is losing steam among women popularly depicted as dying to walk down the aisle. To hear candidates speak tirelessly to family values in a traditional sense is to feel like you don’t quite count as an American if you’re a single female (or male!).
The truth, as presented in this article, is that single ladies do count—very much. Which means that where candidates stand on the issues that matter to them—”pay equity, paid family leave, a higher minimum wage, universal pre-K, lowered college costs, more affordable health care and broadly accessible reproductive rights”—could decide their fate in this election if single women vote. According to NPR.org, “Single women make up about 25 percent of the electorate, and they’re growing fast as marriage rates decline. But while they are reliable supporters for the Democrats—that is, when they vote—they are not reliable voters: Between 2008 and 2010, the participation of unmarried women fell by about 20 points. And between 2012 and 2014, single women’s participation is expected to drop off by about the same rate.”
Kendall Jenner on set for the Rock The Vote campaign. Photo: @kendalljenner
Even our non-single female friends have a lot at stake in this election. According to a 2013 Pew poll, 40 percent of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family. Based on a quick survey of our friends, many of whom are in this position, we’re guessing this number has only continued to rise. This means that many of the issues that matter to single women are likely to be important to a great percentage of married women as well.
If we could combine these two demographics, and turnout to the polls, we could decide the fate of this election and potentially enact true progress in the way our country supports women for generations to come. As Traister puts it, “This would have been a critically important election for this constituency even without a Supreme Court seat potentially hanging in the balance, but the sudden death of Antonin Scalia puts an even finer point on it. The cases brought before the court, and the decisions rendered, will be tightly wound up with questions of women’s independence in America: women’s ability to control their reproduction, to seek redress from workplace discrimination and benefit from programs like affirmative action that bolster their ability to pursue equal opportunities; the rights of poor women and women of color to vote easily—these are the issues that will be decided by the court in the coming decades, and thus at some level by this election.”
It’s not that we need policies to support an economy in which more women are single, but that we need to support an economy in which families just don’t look like they used to. If Nordic countries are any sort of benchmark for how policies that support gender equality can benefit society as a whole, this type of progress is a no-brainer. If you agree? Vote.