In 1955, Adali Stevenson gave the commencement speech at Smith College. He told young women: “I think there is much you can do about our [spiritual] crisis in the humble role of housewife. You may be hitched to one of these creatures we call ‘Western man,’ and I think part of your job is to keep him Western, to keep him purposeful, to keep him whole…You can do it in the living-room with a baby in your lap or in the kitchen with a can-opener in your hand.”
We are perpetually in a spiritual crisis that can only be fixed by a woman in the kitchen. It’s a huge win for the second half of the 20th century that this argument has been moved from leading political figures addressing graduating classes to the shadier alleyways of the Wall Street Journal opinion page. Kay Hymowitz tries to keep the dream alive in an editorial-launching-a-book for the Wall Street Journal, Where Have The Good Men Gone? Feminism, by making women independent, has destroyed the mechanism for making men civilized. Now men shirk responsibility since there is nothing to tether them towards something other than watching porn and playing video games.
This argument has already been taken apart by others, including Jill from Feministe, Freddie de Boer, Monica Potts and Kay Steiger. As people postpone marriage until they are financial secure we could see some serious delays in marriage for the Millennials. The unemployment rates among the young are staggering; nobody is escaping it. We could seriously be looking at a lost generation.
(Side note: It’s worth pointing out to conservatives that want to destroy any legacy of the New Deal that a lot of the mid-century nuclear family dynamics are the result of New Deal policy. See recent historian work such as Mettler’s Dividing Citizens: Gender and Federalism in New Deal Public Policy and Kessler-Harris’ In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th-Century America.)
The idea of later first marriages is carrying a lot of weight in terms of men shirking responsibility, but that other staple of American, bourgeois, stability-driving, middle-class-identity contracts, homeownership, actually skyrocketed over this time period. Let’s go to the Census data, specifically Housing Vacancies and Homeownership (CPS/HVS) Table 17, Homeownership Rates by Age of Householder and Family Status for the United States. This allows us to break out homeownership rate by unmarried men and females, ages 25-29, the demographic Hymowitz is concerned about:
2007, the year the movie Knocked Up came out, was a 30-year record high for unmarried men 25-29 owning a home. I’m not sure whether Hymowitz would see that as a responsibility, as a tether to communities, settling down, exchanging mobility for security, etc. Unmarried 25-29 year old women’s homeownership rate during this period increases but do not converge. For both, men especially, that number has come down with the housing bubble popping.
This gets to a financial question I’ve been discussing with some people. In the same sense that later marriages are, in part, a reaction to the divorce numbers among the boomers, how will the housing market disaster of the past decade affect homeownership for the next generation of Americans? Will the foreclosure crisis, negative equity, broken servicing model and casino style of homeownership put people off for a generation? What impact will that have on urban policy? Has anyone done any work on this?