Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Single-sex marriage is still marriage

Two related posts have me thinking about the role of government in privileging certain relationships. On Feministing there is a lively conversation about the fact that gay marriage does not address “fundamental problems of inequality” since it still only bestows benefits like access to healthcare and medical decision-making on those who are married. Bella DePaulo makes the same point, though she specifically calls this out as singlism. The point of both posts is that marriage confers benefits that really should be available to everyone, not just those who are in a certain type of relationship. I have to admit that when I first read DePaulo’s post, I resisted the idea that these laws are ‘discriminatory’. After all, I'm not really disadvantaged since I don’t need to cover anyone else with my health insurance and I could make a living will if I were really worried about who will make medical decisions for me if I’m every incapacitated, etc. But after thinking more about it, I think I agree that there is something problematic about employers and the government privileging certain relationships (spouse) over other relationships (family, friends).

Now, before I get flamed by anyone thinking that I’m somehow saying that marriage is no different from friendship, let me quote a comment on Feministing from Bethany, who expresses my thinking well: “…I do think a formal relationship IS useful for things like hospital visitation and child adoption because it creates a way for both partners to agree about the nature and seriousness of the relationship and its long-term commitment. Maybe we need some other kind of formal relationship that's not tied up in sex, since you don't need a sexual relationship to care for each other or a child together.”
I have no problem with society valuing committed relationships, and I believe that there is some justification for government policies that encourage people to enter into committed relationships, since such relationships have positive externalities like promoting stability and stronger community ties (though it's important to note I say can, not must). But if such externalities are the rationale for these policies, then they apply to many types of long-term relationships, including family and friendships, not just marriage (heterosexual or otherwise). So while I am hoping that California continues to make me proud and does not do anything to jeopardize gay marriage, I also hope that all those who are currently advocating for gay marriage will continue fighting to honor all types of committed relationships.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Academia, parenthood and hard choices

A recent study found that academics are less likely than doctors or lawyers (i.e. other professions requiring years of training) to have kids, and the gap is bigger for women. There are a lot of things that could explain this - professors tend to be more liberal and less religious; although doctors and lawyers require a lot of training, it’s still a longer road for academics since it’s not just grad school but the six years of working toward tenure that tend affect the ability to settle down and have kids; while academia offers great flexibility (which would presumably make it easier to juggle work and kids), that flexibility also makes professors highly independent and we quickly get used to being able to do what we want, when we want (the economist way to put it is that the opportunity cost, in terms of loss of independence, is greater for academics). And having a traditional family and house-in-the-burbs lifestyle is not necessarily the norm for academics so there’s far less pressure to follow that path (which, by the way, is one of the things I love about being an academic!). But of course, as one of the comments over on InsideHigherEd points out, the key question is whether being an academic is incompatible with parenthood, or whether the type of people who become academics are less likely to want kids?

The question of why academics, particularly women, have fewer kids is not trivial because it affects whether we see this as a problem (which implies it needs fixing), or simply an interesting empirical correlation. But even if there is something about academia that makes it harder for women who want kids to have them, does that alone suggest changes should be made? This is one of those areas that I really struggle with as a feminist and an economist. The feminist in me wants to say that women should be able to have it all; the economist in me knows that there are always trade-offs. The feminist in me wants to say that no women should be discouraged from doing what she wants professionally because she also wants kids; the economist in me believes that if having kids is more important to some people than others, then those women should choose jobs that allow them to have the life they want, rather than requiring the jobs (including bosses and co-workers) to accommodate the women. And of course, the idealist in me wants to live in a world where no matter what your decision, you are supported, not judged for it…

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Today is the one-year anniversary of me becoming a homeowner. I celebrated by pruning the bougainvillea that is threatening to cause a short-circuit by twining around the power lines coming into the house, and pulling weeds in my front yard (and once again, vowing that the damn lawn will be gone by the end of the summer). On the other hand, I also walked over to a new coffee shop this morning, and then to the neighborhood farmers' market this afternoon, and am now sitting in my back yard with a glass of wine, admiring how pretty the bougainvillea looks in full bloom.

A few people have asked me if I wish I had waited to buy, given the way the market has tanked, but I can honestly say I don't regret buying one bit - if I had waited, I might not have found a house as perfect for me as this one. So here's to my house!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Single people live in the village too...

Someone asked me what National Foster Care Month has to do with being single and other people’s kids, other than the fact that foster kids are obviously OPKs. I guess I can see why that would be confusing since most people don’t think about singledom and kids in the same train of thought. But as I mentioned in a previous post, the fact that I don’t want kids of my own doesn’t mean I don’t like kids. I’ll admit I’m not all that great with little kids (for that matter, I’m not great with anyone, of any age, that isn’t capable of being particularly rational), but one of the reasons I love my job as a professor is that I get to constantly interact with young people. Given that I don’t want kids of my own but I do like being around young people, I have often thought that doing some sort of volunteer work with kids would be a good way to achieve that. So my train of thought was something like, “I don’t want kids of my own but I like being around young people sometimes. All my friends have kids and I’m looking forward to being a part of those kids’ lives but aren’t there other kids out there that would benefit from having someone like me around once in a while? Hey, there’s an ad about it being National Foster Care Month – I should look into that…”

I’m apparently not particularly unusual in this thinking. Kay Trimberger points out that many happily single women have strong relationships with younger people; indeed, single people tend to enjoy larger and stronger communities in general than coupled people. That certainly makes intuitive sense to me though the economist in me starts wondering how much causation there is, and which direction it really goes. That is, is it being happily single that leads women to build strong communities (i.e., women who have no intention of settling may go out and build strong communities to ensure they still have a support system they can rely upon)? Or is that have a strong community makes women happier about being single (i.e., women who happen to have strong communities are less likely to feel the void of being alone)? Or is it that happy women with strong communities are less likely to settle for a less-than-stellar partner and so remain single? The explanation is probably some mix of all of the above, and different for every woman who fits this particular mold…

Thursday, May 15, 2008

REALLY proud to be a Californian!

California ban on same-sex marriage struck down

I know it will probably go to the Supreme Court, and there will be lots of horrible, gay-bashing, hypocritical rhetoric from the anti-family idiots that are pushing a November ballot initiative to change the state constitution but for today, rationality has prevailed!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Single Female Homeowner seeks the One

When I bought my house last year, I didn’t realize that I was part of a growing trend but apparently, single women are the fastest growing group of homeowners. That doesn’t really surprise me, since women are earning more than they used to and I think there are more and more quirkyalone-type women who just don’t see the point in waiting for a relationship before setting down permanent roots. And I absolutely love my house – it’s in a great neighborhood where I can walk to restaurants, coffee shops, the post office and library, plus it’s just the right size for me and the dinner parties I like to throw (OK, OK, the dinner parties I keep intending to throw). But every once in a while, I do miss one important thing about my pre-homeowner life: a landlord to call when things go wrong. When a sprinkler head breaks, or I discover that a small lake forms under my house every time in rains, it would be awfully nice to make one call and forget about it. On the other hand, it’s hard to beat the feeling of accomplishment and pride when I fix that sprinkler or get the sump pump working. It helps that I have a few people to call to ask for help and advice, like my engineer father or my lifesaver realtor. But I’m still searching for the ONE – that one, reliable, indispensible guy that I can call at anytime, who will tell me no problem is too big or too small, that he’s happy to help me with them all. So if anyone can recommend a dependable handyman in the San Diego area, please let me know!

Monday, May 12, 2008

National Foster Care Month

Since I seem to have both being single and other people’s kids a bit on the brain lately, so it seems sort of serendipitous that this is National Foster Care Month. I’ve been thinking for a while about volunteering to be a child advocate (child advocates work with the courts, advocating for abused and neglected kids who are going through the system) but given my transient existence the last couple years, it hasn’t been possible. Now I’m hoping to be a vMentor through the Orphan Foundation of America (where you email your mentee so you don’t need to be in any one specific place). If you have any interest in helping kids, the Foster Care Month website has some great suggestions for how you can get involved, whether you’ve got just a few minutes, a few hours, or more time…

Baby Boom

Somewhere in the last couple years, I passed the kid tipping point: I now have more friends with kids than without. There are several things I find interesting about that. One is that I passed the marriage tipping point ages ago but somehow never noticed. I think that’s largely because my married friends tend to act the same as when they were single (or they live far away and my primary communication with them is via phone and email so I just don’t see the changes). But while going from dating to married doesn’t necessarily involve a huge lifestyle change, there’s no question that having kids means major changes. Interesting observation #2: I like having friends who are parents. I may change my tune in a few months when my closest friends in San Diego have their first and I’ll have to find other people to go see the new Batman movie with me*, but since I don’t have any intention of having kids of my own, talking to my friends about their experience is the closest I’ll get and I often find it fascinating. Which leads to interesting observation #3: a lot of people assume that because I don’t want kids of my own, that must mean I don’t like kids and/or don’t want to hear about kids. I think I’ll address that in more detail in a future post but for now, I’ll just quote one of my friends (who has a 7-month-old), “I’ve never liked other people’s kids but I always knew I wanted one myself. So why can’t you like kids and not want one? One doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the other.” Or as another friend put it (who has a five-year-old), “I don’t like kids, I only like my kid.” Of course, the fact that I have friends who say stuff like that is probably exactly why having so many with children doesn’t seem to be affecting my friendships much…
* Informal poll: Your wife's due date is July 19th. The Dark Knight opens July 18th. She has said you can go. Do you go?

News Flash: 30-something woman is OK being single!

When I was younger, I used to have nightmares about being imprisoned in a mental hospital – you know, that catch-22 situation where there is simply no way to convince people that you are actually sane because everyone expects crazy people to say that they aren’t crazy. I was reminded of this when I saw a recent article in The Atlantic by Lori Gottlieb in which says:

“…every woman I know—no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure—feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried… all I can say is, if you say you’re not worried, either you’re in denial or you’re lying.”

So not only does this perpetuate the stereotype that all single women must be desperate to get married, but it conveniently makes it impossible to refute the stereotype because if you even try, you must be lying! I don’t think that Gottlieb sees that her statement that “every woman I know” feels that way is completely self-fulfilling since she apparently doesn’t believe any woman who doesn’t feel that way. On the one hand, stuff like this makes me insanely frustrated because it’s just wrong, not to mention stupid, but for reasons I don’t understand, a lot of people want to believe it and this allows those people to think they are right. On the other hand, I am fortunate enough to mostly be surrounded by people who don’t think this way, let alone spout such nonsense aloud, so hearing stuff like this mostly just makes me feel really sorry for people like Gottlieb. I honestly can’t imagine how sad it must be to believe that the only way to have a fulfilling life with lots of love and support is through marriage. So let me say for the record (and I do hope that somehow, in the crazy world that is the internet, this will find a way back to Ms. Gottlieb): I am 37, single, and pretty much have exactly the life that I want. And whether you believe me or not, I have thought about this long enough and hard enough to be pretty sure I’m not in denial. But in case it seems I doth protest too much, I should say that I’ve also never been interested in having kids so that probably helps, and I don’t try to argue with those who tell me that a relationship with the right person is better than being single (although I’m not sure I know anyone who can really make that comparison objectively). But to any woman out there who is even thinking of taking Ms. Gottlieb’s advice to settle because a mediocre relationship is better than being alone, all I can say is, she’s wrong. Of course, if you already believe she’s right, then she is, since you must already believe being alone has to suck - what I'm telling you is that it doesn't have to. But at the very least, go read some Bella DePaulo, Kay Trimberger, or the many other authors with essays in Single State of the Union before making up your mind…

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Proud to be a Californian

There are many things to love about living in California but every once in a while, I am reminded of some new reason why I really couldn’t live anywhere else. I recently read Single State of the Union: Single women speak out on life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. As the title suggests, it’s a collection of essays by and about single women and with almost every essay, I found something to which I would say, “Yes!”. But there was also a lot to which I said, “Gee, I don’t really have that problem,” and I think it’s largely because I live in California. There’s a reason why ‘alternative lifestyles’ are more common out here; Californians, as a species, tend to be less judgmental than people elsewhere in the country. I simply can’t imagine anyone I know here suggesting that it was odd for me to buy a house without being married (well, I do have a colleague who repeatedly mentions it but it is more “How could you possibly afford it alone?” than anything else). Heck, I can’t even remember the last time someone I know implied that there was anything ‘wrong’ with my single status. I have felt somewhat slighted by a certain coupled friend who doesn’t ask me to do the same things that she asks other coupled friends to do, but given that I am closer friends with her than her husband, I can sort of understand that (of course, on the other hand, I have had little opportunity to become better friends with her husband because of that). But I have never had to endure the kind of crap that routinely happens to a friend of mine who lives in New England – he’s been called everything from selfish to immature to pathetic by “friends” who all think there’s something wrong with him because he doesn’t fit into the pattern they expect. As if I needed a reason, other than the Patriots, to think New England sucks...


I’ve been a quirkyalone for a long time, I just didn’t know there was a term for it until recently when I happened to pick up Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics at the library. I’ve also been an economist for a long time, but I definitely knew that. Economists tend to see the world a little differently from most people – we try to separate value-laden judgments from the objective costs and benefits of available choices. Quirkyalones, by their very existence, seem to challenge the value-laden judgments that permeate the way society has traditionally seen single people. I’m not sure if there is anything unique about being both an economist and a quirkyalone at the same time but hopefully, my posts to this blog will be interesting to those who might be one or the other or both. Besides, it seemed like a good name for a blog…