Phyllis Schlafly has made the news with the following remarks, which have earned that common appellation, “controversial:”
Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly took aim at “unmarried women” at a recent fundraiser and in an interview with TPM, saying that they overwhelmingly support President Obama and are all on welfare. Democrats aim to exploit the comments to pressure the more than 60 Republican candidates who have earned Schlafly’s endorsement.
“Unmarried women, 70% of unmarried women, voted for Obama, and this is because when you kick your husband out, you’ve got to have big brother government to be your provider,” said Schlafly, president of Eagle Forum and infamous for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.
Democrats can aim to exploit her comments all they want; it’s what they do. Personally, I don’t think that every candidate endorsed by Schlafly is deemed to have endorsed everything she might say (the same, of course, is true for endorsers and endorsees on the left). But hey, that’s just me.
What interests me more is what Schlafly actually said, plus the entire demographic “unmarried women,” which seems absurd to me. It’s a term used by various research groups in studies, but it describes a conglomeration of women so disparate as to be virtually meaningless as a unit.
Think about it—“unmarried women” consists of women who have never been married (mostly younger ones, who will probably become married in the not-too-distant future), divorced women (many of whom will remarry, sometimes briefly and sometimes long-term), women with children and without, and widows (mostly older, most of whom will never remarry). What do these women have in common, besides being women, and besides being at least temporarily single?
As for unmarried women voting for Obama—whatever their reasons—some of this can be explained by the fact that they are predominantly young. Take a look at the chart found here:
You can see that nearly a third of “unmarried women” are under thirty, 22% are over 65, and the rest are spread out among other age groups. What’s more, if you look at the “race” part of the chart, you’ll note that almost 30% of the unmarried women are either African-American or Hispanic. We already know that the young voted very strongly for Obama, and that women were more likely to vote for him than men, and that African-Americans were almost 100% behind him and Hispanics strongly so. Therefore I tend to think it’s not straining credulity to believe that the bulk (although not all) of the unmarried female vote for Obama can be accounted for by a combination of these three factors: age, gender, and race.
One other thing—do divorced unmarried women generally fall under the rubric of Schlafly’s “kicking their husbands out?” There is some basis to that claim, at least according to a related statistic, which of the spouses initiates legal action. Data indicates that in about 2/3 of cases, divorce is initiated by the wife, at least in the legal sense, and at least in marriages with children.
Of course, this tells us nothing about why the wife decides to call it quits. In a survey of divorces in midlife and beyond, for example, the reasons stated were as follows:
According to an AARP survey of older divorced people, 66 percent of women reported that they asked for the divorce, compared to 41 percent of men. However, the same survey reported that most women in their fifties or older said the top killers of their marriages were physical or emotional abuse, infidelity, and drug or alcohol abuse—and they put almost all of the blame on their ex-husbands. On the flip side, most fifty-plus men said they simply “fell out of love” or had “different values or lifestyles.”
How representative is this of the bulk of divorces? With no-fault divorce widespread, it’s hard to say; divorce decrees don’t ordinarily discuss marital fault anymore, and we must rely on self-report surveys, which can be self-serving and unreliable.
Who initiates a divorce can actually be a rather poor indicator of what led to the decision to terminate a marriage, although it may be the best indicator we have. Just contemplate the fact that it was Tiger Woods’s wife Elin who initiated their divorce proceedings and you’ll see what I mean. Divorce is such a complex he said/she said process that in general it’s probably best to assume these things are usually unknowable, even (or perhaps especially) to the main protagonists in the sad drama, the warring couple.
[NOTE: If anyone wants to wade through the sludge of this very lengthy report that attempts to shed light on the issue of what motivates divorce initiations by women, they are welcome to do so.]