National Post

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October 6, 2000

Superwoman bites the dust

Today's single women have no desire 'to have it all'

Elizabeth Nickson
National Post

Let me see if I've got this straight. As long as anyone can remember, reaching back to time immemorial, single women have been lost in Bridget Jones's pits of misery, unable to hold their heads up, the Fifth Wheel at any social event, and indeed, the very definition of lonely and miserable. Typical story: A newly single friend with a smallish pick-up truck full of money, very little hair but on the whole good-looking for 50-something, sits by his answering machine some mornings and laughs at the number of phone calls coming in from women pursuing him. He's the object of a bidding war, he says, something that never happened with his books, he says, and he has one word to describe the women after him.

"Desperate," he says, working hard to keep the satisfaction out of his voice. (His wife left him.)

So far, familiar, right? The predetermined state of man and woman.

Wrong. This autumn season marks the coming out of single women as a force, the market segment advertisers most slaver over, and besides this, they are supposedly happy beyond imagining. By a 30% margin, unmarried women prefer Al Gore over George Bush, making pundits say things like, "If Gore wins, it's single women who will elect him." Time and CNN ran a poll that found as many as 41% have decided that, if they don't find the perfect man, they will not marry. Ever. And finally, in the Spectator magazine, a young Sunday Times editor reports that she and her friends, despite being in relationships, owning houses, making good money, can't even manage to think about having children. Messy and boring and all that work. Ergh, who needs it?

They say they don't want to lose their looks, they don't want to "have it all," it's too harrowing to have days that start at the crack of dawn, and end at midnight leaving you barely able to hobble to the bed. Working mothers are frazzled, stressed, guilty at both ends, their fate completely unenviable. In fact, the whole "having it all" debate is dead. No one wants to work 15-hour days, never see your kids, and never have time to be alone, to ponder, to walk somewhere without purpose, to have every day filled with some necessary task imposed on you by something that looks very close to greed. Having it all may be possible, but the life it produces is unlivable, environmentally unsound, and without any pleasure but that which is snatched from the rounds of a busy schedule. And that does not even begin to measure the harm caused to neglected children. We are imprisoned by our rapacious desire.

Now I have spent a fair amount of time as an adult, either listening to tales of broken hearts, or suffering from one myself. Women of my generation -- and to use sociology-speak, in the mini-cohorts behind and ahead of us -- knew they wanted to be independent, or should, but that when it came right down to it, they'd rather be hooked up, thanks. Half the college-educated women who came of age during the '70s did not have children, and most of them regretted it loud and long, so their younger contemporaries took extreme action, holding their noses and marrying a stable actuary type rather than the drug-addled bad boy they actually preferred, or pursuing sperm donors, foreign adoption or even surrogacy, so they did not become pathetic examples of humanity, shut out from everything cozy and nice.

But demographics are a marvel. For as Gail Sheehy points out in her Pathfinders follow-up to Passages, women in their 20s and early 30s, right now, are outnumbered by men of the same age. They are in a seller's market. Not only that, for them, the glass ceiling is a few years away, might not even exist by the time they get there, and if they choose right in the education superstore, they are making serious money and enjoying their work. That produces a whole new attitude, as in "Hey buddy, I got standards and you better live up to them." Nothing is more suited to bringing on the last phase of the feminist revolution than those two facts, more men than women, with women having money of their own and a smidgen of social power.

But this is the best part. Not wanting to have babies is directly related to the amount of education a woman has had. The more education the lower the birth rate. Not only Anglo-Saxons and Europeans are not birthing at replacement rate. As women of colour immigrate to first world countries and educate themselves, their birth rate drops too.

The United Nations reports that more than 50 countries now have fertility rates below replacement levels. According to the UN Population Division, the world population will peak in about 2040, at 7.7 billion and then go into long-term decline, dropping to 3.6 billion, less than two-thirds of today's global population by 2150.

We are a self-regulating species and the free market is a wonderful thing.

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