Andrew Hacker’s Mismatch is a compendium of statistics from a variety of official sources like the US Bureau of the Census, the National Center for Health Statistics, even the FBI, that support his observation that the ancient gap between men and women is growing ever wider. Although many novels or poems could serve in one way or another to illustrate such a gap, and most of us have a sense of it, Mismatch provides documentation with statistics of increasing divorces, salary differences, workplace changes, decreasing rates of childbearing, rising numbers of homosexual households, etc., which taken together find more divorce, more single parenting, and many other measures of the decline of the family, arising because of diverging male and female expectations. Our grandparents stayed together because they had fewer choices and had to be realistic about what these were. “Wives and husbands grew accustomed to each other, largely by developing domestic routines. Romance, conversation, and mutually satisfying sex were seldom expected or experienced for long, if at all.” Marriages centered on the family, and anyway people were likely to be too tired to worry about delicate questions of psychic and sexual harmony.
Today fewer “brides and grooms are less embarking on a journey together, than on a trip with two separate itineraries and destinations,” because women have upped the ante. “What is new is that women are more likely to leave a marriage when they fail to get what they want.” “What is [also] new is that all too many men are unwilling or unable to become the kinds of husbands modern women want.” Presumably modern women want husbands who will express their feelings and pitch in with the kids. What do men want? Can we find the “road map” to resolve these different expectations? Do we want to?
The first question is whether the gap is a good or bad thing, a beneficial evolution or evidence of social collapse. Hacker’s own implicit assumption seems to be that it is more bad than good, though he tactfully conceals his point of view under an equable and accepting tone that seems to leave the answer open. He acknowledges that his discussion may have “an antediluvian ring” and may seem to ignore the strides men have made in becoming “more responsive and mature in their relations with women,” “nor should anything said here be taken to mean [women are] insipid or imprudent,” but “the more crucial reality is that the shifts that are occurring are making it harder for members of the two sexes to adapt to one another,” with consequences for them and for children.
The pattern of social change in America is most clearly demonstrated as it affects the family. Today there are fewer marriages, and fewer American adults are becoming parents—about double the number of non-parents in 1970. More parents are single parents; in 2001, 33.4 percent of all births were to unmarried women, as opposed to one in twenty in 1960.
Overall, of the …