|About two weeks ago the New York
Times carried a sensational story declaring that most women in
the United States are now living without a husband. It was
written by Sam Roberts who based his conclusions on an analysis
of 2005 data from the Census Bureau.
While it is technically true that 51
percent of females are living in households without a
husband present, Roberts' story is misleading in significant
Roberts counted girls who are 15
to 17 years old in his calculations. Without including
these teenagers, the headline should have read: "Most women live
with a spouse." Such a story would have been so ordinary
that it likely would not have been published.
He also counted women who were
married but whose husbands were absent from the household.
That would include women whose husbands were in the military and
assigned to bases overseas.
But because the story implied
that, for the first time in American history, the majority of
women were unmarried, it immediately caught the attention of
other major news organizations. Many ran Roberts' story
but added their own headlines.
The Dallas Morning News published
Roberts' story with a headline that read: "Census data shows most
American women unmarried." The story ran in Oregon's
Register Guard with a headline that pronounced "Majority of
women in U.S. unmarried."
United Press International
released a news wire which declared "More Single Women in U.S.
than Married." This was picked up and repeated by news
outlets in other countries.
In truth, the most recent data
from the Census Bureau shows that a majority of American women
LifeSiteNews.com soon criticized
the demographic distortions perpetuated by the media based on
the New York Times story. Peter Smith wrote a stinging
commentary for this conservative website which severely attacked the
New York Times.
Smith points out that a 2005
Census Bureau report entitled “Marital Status of the Population
by Sex and Age”, shows that 60.4% of men and 56.9% of women over
18 years old are married.
How could the New York Times
story be so at odds with the facts?
As Smith observes, Roberts
created his own analysis of Census Bureau data "by including in
his 51% figure of women living without a spouse: unmarried
teenage and college girls still living with their parents, women
whose husbands work out of town, are institutionalized, or are
separated from husbands serving in Afghanistan and Iraq."
Smith was not the only
conservative commentary to criticize the New York Times story.
Talk show host Michael Medved was fuming.
“It’s one of a series of articles
the New York Times has run…playing games with numbers in a
misleading and dishonest way, each one of them having the same
point: marriage is over, marriage is finished, nobody wants to
get married anymore, people are happier not getting married,”
Medved told his radio listeners.
The Baptist Press contacted
Robert Bernstein for the official word on the accuracy of the
New York Times story and its implication that most women are not
living with a husband. Bernstein is the head of the Census
Bureau's Public Information Office.
use 18 and over as the threshold, this wouldn’t be the case,”
Bernstein said. “A majority of women then would be married in a
It is unfortunate that the New
York Times exaggerated the facts about the percent of "women"
living without a husband. It is even more disturbing that
so many other newspapers distorted the facts even further by
running headlines declaring that most American women are single.
No one benefits from journalistic
exaggerations or distortions. They mislead the public and
create an erosion of confidence in journalistic integrity and
Having said that, I must point to
a fact first reported by
Column One last August. More than 50 percent of
American households are now headed by unmarried adults.
So while the New York Times story
may have ruffled some feathers, major demographic changes have
occurred since 1950 when 78 percent of American households
contained a married couple or since 1980 when about 61 percent
of households were in the married category.
The shift in household patterns
from a married majority to an unmarried majority is undeniable.
Unmarried America 2006
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
email@example.com. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and