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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.

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2 Comments

I was graduating college in 1986, and remember reading the article. Of course, as a 22-year-old, 40 seemed ancient, and I couldn't imagine reaching that age and not being married. The article definitely put the fear into me that I better have it all worked out by age 30!

I stayed single until the age of 39, when I met my current "significant other" (we are still not married, and don't ask me when!) :) I got to spend my 30's doing all kinds of things that my married friends with kids couldn't do -- working for 6 months in Australia, doing a long, careful career change, and volunteering in the community -- and if I had it to do again, I'd do it the same way. Over the past year, many of my heretofore "single" friends in their late 30's and early 40's have been through major changes -- getting married, having children on their own, and taking on all kinds of new challenges. (And, sadly, we all know that the idea of getting killed by a terrorist is no longer hypothetical either.) So here's to all of us who are continuing to celebrate the opportunities available to women of all ages -- it's never too late!

Aren't 60% of all statistics made up anyway?

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How to cite this page

Cove, Michelle. "The Newsweek Article That Struck Terror." 6 June 2006. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 12, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/newsweekterror>.

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