The marriage scare lie

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Twenty years ago, Harvard and Yale researchers suggested that white, college-educated women who didn't marry by age 30 had a 20 percent chance of ever finding husbands. By age 40, those chances dropped to 2.6 percent.

The media overplayed the findings, including Newsweek, which ran the story on its cover. New census figures reported by the Wall Street Journal prove the survey's findings were bunk. Only 10 percent of college-educated women between the ages of 50 and 60 never married. Broadsheet goes further and sports a missive from one of the "spinsters" described by Newsweek 20 years ago. Carol Owens wrote in to say, "'The entire first paragraph of that [1986 Newsweek] 'story,' which unhappily features me, or some person who is supposed to be me, is a fabrication.' " Owens says she spoke to the reporter with the intention of discussing what she saw as "false assumptions" explaining the demographic study in question. "However," she writes, "the knowledge ... that I was one of six 'unmarried' sisters proved too much for the fervid imaginings of the folks at Newsweek. Somehow, the answer to the question 'How did you first hear about the study?' ended up portraying my mother as a New Age Mrs. Bennett, in a positive lather to marry off all of her daughters now." Evidently, that image stuck. Owens and her sisters spent the next week fending off snickering neighbors, declining offers for makeovers (unmarried = must be u-g-l-y, see), even an invitation to appear in a local "bridal auction."

What does the magazine do now to correct the record? Editors ran a Web exclusive recant of sorts, featuring a wedding picture of one of the women whom it portrayed as unlikely to ever find a mate. What about a cover story to correct the record?

And while they are at it, if the New York Times would kindly retract its various and sundry Sunday magazine cover story and front-page stories in the daily, about the so-called Opt Out revolution, that would be just ducky, too. Expert-after-expert I've interviewed these past few years says it's simply not true that Ivy League-educated women are abandoning the career world for full-time homemaking. Yes, some women may go part time when their children are young or take off a few years. As experts say, some do "turn down the volume" on the career front for a time.

But they're hardly giving up high-powered careers forever.