Journalistic Malpractice in "Marriage is Dead" Report

Posted: Jan 18, 2007 2:40 PM
Journalistic Malpractice in "Marriage is Dead" Report

On Tuesday, January 16th, 2007, the American people awoke to startling and disturbing news: for the first time ever, the majority of women in the country were living without a husband.

All the TV networks, radio news broadcasts, pundits, talk show hosts and leading newspapers reported on the devastating milestone, and saw it as yet another indication of the ongoing collapse of the traditional family. Some commentators hailed this development as an encouraging sign of newfound freedom, while others decried it as a reflection of decadence and dysfunction.

With all the debate and pontification about the new minority status of married women, it’s just too bad that no significant media outlet (beyond this writer, on my nationally syndicated radio show) made the single most important and salient observation about the big news--

That is, it’s not true.

The entire story (based on the work of one ax-grinding, irresponsible, agenda-driven journalist for the New York Times) has been cooked up from willful, blatant and shameful distortions. Amazingly enough, none of the most respected and purportedly responsible media authorities have taken the trouble to call him on it.

First, the truth—a truth that is easily accessible from the United States Census Bureau.

According to the most recent available figures (from 2005), a clear majority (56%) of all women over the age of 20 are currently married.

Moreover, nearly all women in this country will get married at one time or another. Among those above the age of 50 (a group that includes the celebrated Baby Boomers of the famously revolutionary ‘60’s generation), an astonishing 94% have been married at one time or another and some 79% are either currently married or widowed.

Even including the younger, supposedly “post-marriage” generation, and considering all women above the age of 30, some 61% are currently married and another 12% are widowed. In other words, nearly three-fourths (73%, a crushing majority) of all women who have reached the tender age of 30 now occupy a traditional female role as either current wives or widows – avoiding the supposedly trendy status of divorced, separated, co-habiting or single.

How, then, could America’s “Journal of Record,” the New York Times, possibly peddle the ridiculously distorted story that most females now count as unattached?

Reporter Sam Roberts begins his tendentious account with the following declarations: “For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one, according to a New York Times analysis of census results. In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000.”

This conclusion provided a shocking front-page headline (“51% of Women Are Now Living Without Spouse”) that gave rise to considerable cluck-clucking and tut-tting throughout the media echo-chamber.

So how could reporter Roberts read the same Census figures that any American can view (“according to a New York Times analysis”) and come up with such bizarre conclusions?

It’s all based on a fundamentally dishonest decision that Roberts never acknowledges in the entire course of his lengthy article. It turns out that in his analysis he chose to count some 10,154,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 as “women.” It should come as no surprise that this vast group of teenagers (yes, teenagers, most of whom live at home) are officially classified as “single.” In fact, 97% of the 15 to 19 year olds identify themselves as “never married.” The Census Bureau, by the way, doesn’t call these youngsters “women” – it labels them “females” (a far more appropriate designation).

Yet even the ridiculous inclusion of his ten million unmarried teenagers couldn’t give Sam Roberts the story he wanted to report – that most American “women” are now unmarried. As a matter of fact, the Census Bureau shows that among all females above 15 the majority (51%!) are still classified as “married.”

So the New York Times required yet another sneaky distortion to shave off that last 2% from the married majority, though this bit of statistical sleight-of-hand Sam Roberts had the decency to acknowledge. “In a relatively small number of cases, the living arrangement is temporary, because the husbands are working out of town, are in the military, or are institutionalized,” he writes. In other words, in his brave new majority of “women” without spouses, he includes all those thousands upon thousands of wives and mothers who are waiting and praying at home for the return of their husbands from Iraq or Afghanistan. By arbitrarily removing this 2% of all females (2,400,000 individuals) who are classified as “married/spouse absent” from the ranks of the married, and then designating as “unmarried” his millions of middle school and high school girls who are living with their parents, together with some 9 million elderly widows who have devoted much of their lives to marriage and husbands (42% of all women over 65 are widows), Roberts can finally arrive at his desired but meaningless conclusion that “most women” now “are living without a husbands.” Eureka!

If anyone doubts that this laughable analysis stems from a heavy-handed anti-marriage agenda, consider these quotes that Roberts features in his story, after declaring that today’s women are “sometimes delighting in their newfound freedom”:
“Sheila Jamison, who also lives in the East Village and works for a media company, is 45 and single… ‘Considering all the weddings I attended in the ‘80’s that have ended so very, very badly, I consider myself straight up lucky,’ Ms. Jamison said. ‘I have not sworn off marriage, but if I do wed, it will be to have a companion with whom I can travel and play parlor games in my old age.’…

“Similarly, Shelly Fidler, 59, a public policy adviser at a law firm, has sworn off marriage. She moved from rural Virginia to the vibrant Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C., when her 30-year marriage ended.

“’The benefits were completely unforeseen for me,’ Ms. Fidler said, ‘the free time, the amount of time I get to spend with friends, the time I have alone, which I value tremendously, the flexibility in terms of work, travel and cultural events.’…

“Elissa B. Terris, 59, of Marietta, Ga., divorced in 2005 after being married for 34 years and raising a daughter, who is now an adult.

“’A gentleman asked me to marry him and I said no,’ she recalled. ‘I told him, ‘I’m just beginning to fly again. I’m just beginning to be me. Don’t take that away.’

“’Marriage kind of aged me because there weren’t options,’ Ms. Terris said. ‘There was only one way to go. Now I have choices. One night I slept on the other side of the bed, and I thought, I like this side.’”
Ah, the indescribable joys of slumbering on either side of an empty big, bed! Such profound pleasures and blissful rewards obviously make up for fleeting inconvenience of growing old alone.

By featuring profile after profile of his joyously unattached females, Sam Roberts doesn’t just report on the purportedly husband-free majority; he celebrates it.

He did the same thing with a similarly misleading and propagandistic article on October 15, 2006, which appeared under the headline: “It’s Official: To Be Married Means to Be Outnumbered.”

This “report” began with the claim: “Married couples, whose numbers have been declining for decades as a proportion of American households, have finally slipped into a minority, according to an analysis of new census figures by the New York Times.”

As with his “disappearing husbands” scoop of three months later, Roberts relied on twisting and squeezing numbers to reach his “marriage is dead” conclusion.

Among the “unmarried” households he featured as part of his “new majority,” more than half involved individuals living alone—many of them widows, by the way. In any event, far more people lived within “married households” than outside of such arrangements – despite his insipid and wretchedly misleading claim that “married couples” have “slipped to a minority.”

The Census Bureau reports (official 2005 numbers) that heavy majorities of individuals (male and female) in every age group over 30 are currently married --- not widowed, divorced, separated, or single. For instance, among those 34 to 39, 64.6% are married, and among those 40-44, 67.7% are married.

What Roberts does to reach his “revolutionary” conclusion is to count “households” rather than “people.” According to this numbering, a little cul de sac (Wisteria Lane?) with two homes--one including two married people with four children, the other with a single widow living alone-- would be evenly split between “married” and “unmarried” – a logical and statistical absurdity. In reality, the married household contains six people, and the other involves only one.

Despite tricky enumerations, the durability and significance of marriage becomes even more apparent when considering the status of children in the United States. The Census Bureau numbers from 2003 (the most recent available so far) show 68.4% of all children under 18 currently live with two parents; almost exactly three times the number (23%) who live with a single or divorced mother. Moreover, among “family households” (defined by the Census Bureau as “a home with at least two persons, the householder and one or more additional family members related to the householder through birth, adoption or marriage”) an overwhelming 75.7% still feature “married couple families.” In other words, for all the attention lavished by Sam Roberts and countless colleagues on “unconventional” living arrangements--- cohabiting couples, gay couples, single parents, and so forth – these alternatives taken together comprise less than 25% of all households, and involve far less than 20% of all individuals. The great bulk of adults are still either living as married couples, or living alone, often as widows.

These statistics may seem confusing (because of the deliberate attempts to obscure and spin the truth by anti-marriage fanatics) but they are incontrovertible and hugely important for the ongoing debate about the future of the family.

The endlessly repeated lies – that married people are now a minority, that most women don’t have husbands, that half of all first marriages end in divorce – exert a real world influence on young people trying to make decisions about their own intimate arrangements. The relentless media portrayal of matrimony as a wounded, collapsing, outmoded, dysfunctional institution discourages prospective husbands and wives from making the lifelong commitments on which societal health and effective childrearing depend.

Despite the journalistic malpractice by Sam Roberts and the New York Times, the real front page news isn’t about marriage’s disappearance; it’s about the institution’s unexpected and encouraging durability.

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