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Soccer Moms are giving way to Single Woke Females – the new “SWFs” – as one of the most potent voting blocs in American politics. Unmarried women without children have been moving toward the Democratic Party for several years, but the 2022 midterms may have been their electoral coming-out party as they proved the chief break on the predicted Republican wave. While married men and women as well as unmarried men broke for the GOP, CNN exit polls found that 68% of unmarried women voted for Democrats. The Supreme Court’s August decision overturning Roe v. Wade was certainly a special factor in the midterms, but longer-term trends show that single, childless women are joining African Americans as the Democrats’ most reliable supporters. Their power is growing thanks to the demographic winds. The number of never married women has grown from about 20% in 1950 to over 30% in 2022, while the percentage of married women has declined from almost 70% in 1950 to under 50% today. Overall, the percentage of married households with children has declined from 37% in 1976 to 21% today. The Single Wave A new Institute for Family Studies analysis â€¯of 2020 Census data found that one in six women do not have children by the time they reach the end of their childbearing years, up from one in ten in 1990. Single adult women now total some 42 million, comparable to the key African American voting bloc (46 million), while vastly larger than key groups like labor union members (14 million) or college students (20 million). The Pew Research Center notes that since 1960, single-person households in the United States have grown from 13% to 27% (2019). Many, particularly women, are not all that keen on finding a partner. Pew recently found that “men are far more likely than women to be on the dating market: 61% of single men say they are currently looking for a relationship or dates, compared with 38% of single women.” There’s clearly far less stigma attached to being single and unpartnered. Single women today have many impressive role models of unattached, childless women who have succeeded on their own – like Taylor Swift and much of the U.S. women’s soccer team. This phenomenon is not confined to the United States. Marriage and birthrates have fallen in much of the world, including Europe and Japan. Writing in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, columnist Emma John observed that, “Singleness is no longer to be sneered at. Never marrying or taking a long-term partner is increasingly seen as a valid choice.” Rise of Identity Politics The rise of SWFs – a twist on the personal ad abbreviation for single white female – is one of the great untold stories of American politics. Distinct from divorced women or widows, these largely Gen Z and Millennial voters share a sense of collective identity and progressive ideology that sets them apart from older women. More likely to live in urban centers and to support progressive policies, they are a driving force in the Democratic party’s and the nation’s shift to the left. One paradox, however: Democrats depend ever more on women defined in the strict biological sense while much of the party’s progressive wing embraces the blurred and flexible gender boundaries of its identity politics. Attitudes are what most distinguish single women from other voters. An American Enterprise Institute survey shows that married men and women are far more likely than unmarried females to think women are well-treated or equally treated. As they grow in numbers, these discontented younger single women are developing something of a group consciousness. Nearly two-thirds of women under 30, for example, see what happens to other women as critical to their own lives; among women over 50, this mindset shrinks to less than half. This perception of linked fate stands in contrast to survey results regarding single men, who report that they are increasingly disconnected from each other while women bond more closely. This is not a temporary phenomenon, and it is much bigger than the bohemian movements of the past. There is even a sense in which women are redefining families, and themselves, by choosing to neither get married nor have offspring. And social observers such as Bella DePaulo, a University of California, Santa Barbara professor and singles advocate, are all in favor. As she told Nautilus magazine: “[It’s] a tremendously positive thing! Once upon a time, just about everyone in the United States thought that they needed to squeeze themselves into the heterosexual nuclear family box, even if they weren’t heterosexual or weren’t interested in getting married or had no interest in raising kids. Now, people can create the lives and the families that allow them to live their best, most authentic, and most meaningful lives. They can choose to put friends at the center of their lives. Or they can assemble their very own combination of friends and family to be the social convoys that sail beside them as they navigate their lives. They can have kids in their lives without having children of their own.” The key driver of these attitudes may be universities, where feminist ideology often holds powerful sway. Women now predominate on college campuses. In the late 1960s they were about 39% of college graduates; now they are about 59%. The percentage of full-time female professors has risen dramatically; at the full professor level the percentage has grown by roughly one-third. Women now earn more than half of advanced degrees, not only in education but health and medical sciences, and are making great strides in engineering and law. With this growth, a feminist agenda has become increasingly de rigueur in colleges. According to theâ€¯ National Center for Education Statistics, the number of women’s and gender studies degrees in the United States has increased by more than 300% since 1990, and in 2015, there were more than 2,000 degrees conferred. There are widespread movements to establish women’s centers almost everywhere, even as men are abandoning college and university life in record numbers, and those who remain are hit with messaging about behavior and status from diversity, equity, and inclusion offices along with various student life offices that regularly call them toxic, aggressive, and born misogynists. More recently, anti-family attitudes have become more pronounced. “Queer studies” often advocate replacing the “nuclear family” with some form of collectivized childrearing. Progressive groups like Black Lives Matter made their opposition to the nuclear family a part of their basic original platform, even though evidence shows family breakdown has hurt African American boys most of all. The Economics of Singleness While both married and unmarried women have made impressive gains in the workplace, family status appears to be driving a big cleavage in politics among women. Research shows that having children tends to make one more conservative – critically, divorce does not change this calculus decisively, although it moderates leftism. The AEI 2022 data shows that divorced women – of all age cohorts – tend to be more conservative than liberal. In aggregate, 23% of divorced women are liberal while 31% are conservative – the plurality (38%) are somewhere in the moderate middle. The fault lines, however, run deeper and appear to be generational. The data show that 40% of Millennial women – those born between 1981-1996 – identify as liberal and 20% identify as conservative. For single women of the baby boom generation (born between 1946-1963) the number of liberals drops to 25% and the number of conservative women increases to almost 30%. We are witnessing, as sociologist Daniel Bell noted a half century ago in “The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society,” a new type of individualism, unmoored from religion and family, something fundamentally transforming the foundations of middle-class culture. This echoes what the popular futurist Alvin Toffler in 1970 described as a growing immersion in work at the expense of family life. He envisioned a revolution in marriage that would result in a “streamlined family,” and, if children are in the picture, relying on professional child-raisers. The ideal of long-term marriage would give way, he expected, to more transient relationships and numerous partners at different stages of life. There is a clear economic divergence between married and unmarried women, if for no other reason than that two incomes provide more resources and children present different demands. There are plenty of renting couples and home-owning singles, but married people account for 77% of all homeowners, according to the Center for Politics. Married women tend also to do far better professionally and economically, and their rate of marriage has remained constant while those without spouses have declined by 15% over the past four decades, notes the Brookings Institution. Single-parent households, they find, do far worse. This economic reality impacts political choices. Not part of an economic familial unit, they tend to look to government for help, whether for rent subsidies or direct transfers. The pitch of Democratic presidents as reflected in Barack Obama’s “Life of Julia” and Joe Biden’s “Life of Linda” – narratives that advertised the government’s cradle-to-grave assistance for women – is geared toward women who never marry, with the occasional child-raising addressed not by family resources but government transfers.
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