Wealthy Women Can Afford to Reject Marriage, but Poor Women Can't: Higher-income "single ladies" often push back against "patriarchy." But the statistics don't lie: Low-income, unmarried women face significant economic challenges when they stay single

In a Wall Street Journal editorial this week, Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer wrote that "'marriage inequality' should be at the center of any discussion of why some Americans prosper and others don't." He cited statistics about the vast income disparities between single women and married women, regardless of race, and argued that these gaps would shrink if women stayed in school and waited until marriage to have kids. 

At an Atlantic summit on female poverty on Wednesday, the women in the room would have none of that.


"When you say to women, to get out of poverty you should get married, my question to them is how many men you have to marry," said Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of well-known book on low-wage workers, Nickel and Dimed. "Marrying a 10-dollar-an-hour man gets you nowhere, so you'd really have to marry three or four."

There was laughter and applause. Clearly, the mostly female audience approved of her sharp-tongued dismissal of the "just get married" approach to solving income inequality.

But income actually has a significant effect on how women can afford to think about marriage. Often, self-described feminists question the merits of marriage and urge their fellow women to remain independent if they choose. As Carol Gilligan, a New York University professor who sat on a panel with Ehrenreich, put it, "Does anybody know the word patriarchy?"

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