The Newsweek Article That Struck Terror
Newsweek just retracted its 1986 cover article “The Marriage Crunch,” which claimed that a 40-year-old, single, white, college-educated woman was “more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to marry.” Retraction? Are you kidding?!
I was only 17 at the time the article was published, and getting hitched was the furthest thing from my mind. I was just excited to get away from my small Connecticut town, go to college, and meet guys I hadn’t known since my pre-pigtail days. That said, I remember both hearing about the article and the swirl of devastation it caused (and that was before the days of email blitzes). All my high-school friends were horrified.
Why? It put the fear of God in us that we had a specific window of time to meet our soul mates and then that window would slam shut. What that article told women—and everyone—is that there is something extremely wrong with bright, single women over age 40, no matter how fun, interesting, or fabulous they are. Furthermore, women were essentially told they better stop worrying about establishing satisfying careers, bonding with their girlfriends and indulging in fun activities—and start obsessing about finding a husband before it was TOO LATE!
The article reported that a 35-year-old single woman had a 5 percent chance of getting married. But figures from 1996 showed that a 40-year-old single woman had better than a 40 percent chance of marrying. More importantly, we are definitely moving in a direction where women are feeling more comfortable marrying later, not having children, or considering not marrying at all.
If the Newsweek article and its retraction 20 years later teaches us anything, it’s a reminder how easy it is to get worked up by media “alerts” and “official studies”—and how wrong they can be. The article was clearly based on faulty guesses and misinterpretations. The only thing that is truly accurate is that we women must continue to make choices that feel right for us—no matter what stage we are at in life and no matter what the numbers, right or wrong, tell us.
In a recent New York Times article called “Single, Female, and Desperate No More,” 40-something and single Liz Tuccillo, co-author of He's Just Not That Into You, commented on Newsweek’s retraction: "I had no idea how much that old statistic was living in me until you gave me the new one." It makes you stop and wonder what other “news” seeps into our brains, stirs anxiety—and becomes accepted without question as truth.