As Election Day nears, armchair campaign theorizing is reaching a fever pitch. The "woman vote," ever an intriguing topic for political talk shows, has been of particular interest to pundits at Fox News. Distressed by the Democratic voting tendencies of young, single women, talking heads are floating some seriously outlandish ideas.
Saying young women "don't get it," Kimberly Guilfoyle on Fox News infamously suggested that young women should be excused from participating in public life "so they can go back on Tinder and Match.com."
Rush Limbaugh went even further, saying "The Republican Party would be well advised to set up a dating service and to embark on a policy of arranging dates for as many unmarried women as possible."
This is weird. It's seriously regressive. But one aspect has the ring of truth.
It would be better, it seems, for conservatives if more women did tie the knot. Yet, despite being in a perpetual defense of marriage, conservatives don't actually promote pro-marriage policies. Let me explain.
In their book Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage, Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas lay out a portrait of life in poverty that makes a convincing case for putting marriage off until after childbirth. The reasons abound, but all are tied up in poverty: some women note that divorce is frequently the result of falling on hard times. Expecting that their circumstances will continue to be unstable, they simply forgo divorce by avoiding marriage altogether. Others worry that a partner's financial instability could pull them into grave financial hardship as well.
And poor women are correct in observing that poverty puts enormous strain on marriages. As Time's Belinda Luscombe notes, "less-educated, lower-income couples split up more often than college grads and may be doing so in higher numbers than before." Since divorce hits women harder financially than it does men, women with already low incomes are shrewd to avoid it at all costs.
Moreover, poor women are similarly wise to worry about the economic stability of their male partners: declines in men's income, The Atlantic notes, have been particularly precipitous among poor men — the ones that poor women have access to, and the opportunity to marry.
Marriage is somewhat risky for any couple, but for poor women it seems it is an especially dangerous proposition. While it might be tempting to dismiss impoverished women who choose not to marry as decidedly unromantic, materialistic, or self-centered, it's equally hard to begrudge anyone for opting out of extreme deprivation when possible.
On the other hand, there is more to be done for the state of marriage in America than playing the blame game with poor women. If financial instability is one of the chief factors discouraging poor women from pursuing marriage, then it would be wise to pursue policies that provide stability for poor people. A child allowance could provide security for mothers who might otherwise be afraid to marry the fathers of their children, for instance. And if declining wages for poor men are yet another piece of the puzzle, then why not emulate the Danes and raise wages for those at the bottom?
While workable, these solutions to the problem of marriage likely wouldn't please the Fox crew. It seems that cutting government programs and defending marriage are increasingly at odds. But so long as conservative politicians are faced with the decision between the two, I suspect poor couples will continue to lose.