Two great upheavals have transformed the moral world of American women since the 1960’s. The first is their mass arrival in the workforce. The second is the unexplained but catastrophic growth in the rate of divorce.
Both these new circumstances have reshaped the landscape in which women must answer the age-old questions posed by morality and the quest for the good life. When to have children? How many many children to have? Is marriage a prerequisite to motherhood? Is work more important than family? Can the two be balanced somehow?
Here is a great moral dilemma: we no long know with any confidence what moral value to attach to the various and diverging choices that confront women today.
We used to be quite certain that woman’s place was to “honor and obey” men. Then, after the triumph of femenism, we became equally positive that women’s lives were to be just like men’s, only without the hang-ups. Neither certainty seems to hold anymore; most women must make their choices in a void of moral consensus, yet suffer the consequences nonetheless.
I will return to this subject more fully at another time. It is, in my opinion, one of the most important moral questions to be answered by the generation just now entering the workforce. At this point, I will just draw attention to David Brooks’ column in the NYT, “Empty Nests, and Hearts.” Brooks, who is one of the few MSM talking heads worth reading closely, has some striking observations about the collision between free choice and unyielding biology:
Over the past 30 years, the fraction of women over 40 who have no children has nearly doubled, to about a fifth. According to the Gallup Organization, 70 percent of these women regret that they have no kids.
It’s possible that some of these women regret not having children in the way they regret not taking more time off after college. But for others, this longing for the kids they did not have is a profound, soul-encompassing sadness.
And it is part of a large pattern. Most American still tell pollsters that the ideal family has two or three children. But fewer and fewer Americans get to live in that kind of family.
For some, it’s a question of never finding the right person to have kids with. Others thought they’d found the right mates, but the relationships didn’t work out. Others became occupied with careers, and the child-rearing part of their lives never got put together.
But there is also one big problem that stretches across these possibilities: Women now have more choices over what kind of lives they want to lead, but they do not have more choices over how they want to sequence their lives.
Read the whole thing.