Fifteen now, my kid has reached the stage some girls find themselves in: every baby she sees, smells, or hears about floods her with desire. “I need a baby!” she wails to me, (mostly) joking.
“No babies,” I say firmly. “You can have a baby after you get your Ph.D.”
This has been the rule I have recited to her since she was three years old: no babies, no boyfriends, no marriage, not until she gets her Ph.D. And, as with her yearning for a baby at fifteen, I have always been (mostly) joking.
Fox News and the Conservatives want us to believe their Conventional Wisdom, which is that the solution to poverty is for women to marry. (Marry young, obviously.) We just need to have our young women marry some big strong protective man, and he will support her, and hey presto! No poverty.
In fact, of course, this turns out not to be the case. In fact, early marriage often leads to poverty, as anyone who is paying attention can see. (Those who think otherwise have gotten their causes and effects reversed.)
I myself did not marry until I was thirty-three, and very nearly finished with my doctorate. I didn’t have the kid until I was thirty-eight. I have one of the better marriages in my experience – Dr. Skull and I knew each other for years before we married – and yes, by knew each other, I mean “knew” each other. We married only after we were certain we were committed, and certain it was the right thing to do.
I contrast this to the young women in my working class university, many of whom grew up in a culture which forbids sex outside of marriage, which keeps its children ignorant of the mechanics of both sex and birth control, and which encourages early marriage.
Except encourages is a mild word for it: young women who don’t marry in this culture are told, firmly and often, that something is wrong with them; that they are freaks, that they are broken, that they will end up unloved and alone: that it is better to marry anyone (a drunk, an abusive jerk, someone who is damaged or dangerous, someone they do not love) than to stay unmarried.
So these women – who are often very young, seventeen, eighteen, twenty years old – marry, and begin having children at once. Because the men they have married are usually as young as they are, neither partner is educated. They end up with working class jobs – maybe, if they’re lucky, with jobs paying slightly better than minimum wage.
Once these families have two or three kids, someone had to quit working, since otherwise the kids will need daycare,which at their level of income, they cannot afford — though, sometimes, if they’re lucky, a family support system will provide childcare.
If they’re lucky, if the marriage is good, if he doesn’t lose his job and she doesn’t lose hers, if no one gets sick very often or very badly – well, all may yet be well.
Many, even most, of the young women and men I see in my college classrooms are in their mid-twenties and early thirties; sometimes older. Many are divorced, with two or three kids. They are struggling to feed these kids while they make a living and go to school. I can’t tell you the number of students I have had come to my office, shut the door, and tell me (often on the edge of tears) that they would not make it to school the next week, because they couldn’t put gas in the car. Their kid needed antibiotics, and they couldn’t pay for that and gas. Or: their heating bill had to be paid, and they couldn’t do that and buy food and fill up the car.
And these are the winners. They are. These are the ones who have somehow made it to the university, who are climbing out of poverty, who may well yet succeed.
What I mean is: there are worse stories out there.
The solution to poverty is to encourage all our children to avoid marriage until they are at least twenty-five. (Maybe even thirty-three.)
Until their forebrains have developed. Until they have met someone they are absolutely sure they want to spend the rest of their lives with. Until they have completed their educations, until they have found jobs that pay living wages. To have their children late, when they can support them.
And to only marry if they want to marry.
Being alone is better than being with a loser, I tell my kid. Because that’s a true story.
(Photo D. Sharon Pruitt; Source Wikicommons)