Anyone who has ever done any off-roading knows the danger of inadvertently becoming committed to a trail. If you aren’t careful you can become too focused on overcoming the obstacle ahead of you without understanding what lies beyond. Before you know it you can end up boxed in, unable to turn around and go back the way you came.
This happened to a friend and me about ten years ago. We were up in the high country in Colorado and thought we would have more options to return than ended up materializing. We started off with an extremely steep uphill climb, and after that we were hoping not to try the same hill on the way back. When we came to the expected return trail it was closed off however, so we pushed on for the next one. We didn’t have much choice because the trail was so narrow turning around wasn’t an easy option. A little further down the trail we slid down a grade strewn with softball size loose rocks. There was no way we could drive back up that hill even if we could turn around. We were now committed to the trail.
From there the trail only got worse. It got even narrower and there was a large drop-off on one side. It was narrower than the trail in the picture and had no guard rail. At one point there was even a natural spring emptying right into the road creating a muddy section of the trail yet with the drop-off still there. Somewhere along the way we bottomed out hard and the fuel gauge started dropping very quickly; luckily it was only an issue with the gauge which later fixed itself. Around the same time the check engine light came on due to the lack of oxygen at altitude. Both were false alarms but given the context they definitely got our attention. We ultimately made it through to a paved road many miles from where we had started. However, we could have easily ended up spending the night sleeping in the back of my buddy’s SUV at 10,000 feet had we become stuck, broken down, or the trail had become impassable or closed.
I thought of this experience when reading Susan Walsh’s excellent post The Grim Beeper. Susan shares stats on women in the US continuing to delay marriage and childbirth. These women are betting that the trail ahead is passable and will lead them where they want to go. If they are right they will be able to “have it all”. If they are wrong, by the time they figure this out it likely will already be too late. They will be fully committed to the trail by then.
Susan points out that there are signs of trouble on the trail ahead. Women are graduating from college at higher rates than men:
The current sex ratio nationwide in American colleges and universities is 57% female, 43% male, and the gap is widening. This means that among today’s college graduates, 25% of women will not marry college educated men. Let me say that again.
Among today’s college graduates, 25% of women will not marry college educated men.
That estimate is actually rosy because it assumes that men will want to marry in equal numbers to women. The data was not analyzed by sex, but in an era of misandrist family law that’s a dubious claim.
This likely over predicts the differences in future earnings power between college age men and women because women tend to be underrepresented in higher paying majors and overrepresented in unproductive majors. Still, women tend to be more concerned with credentials than men, so many of the college educated women Susan mentions will not be willing to marry a man without a degree even if he out earns her. Add to this the likelihood that a sizable number of men could see the lack of weddings and LTRS amongst their peers as a signal that their 20s would be better spent working the minimum and hanging out with friends instead of knocking themselves out to become a provider. Lastly, as Susan points out the extremely biased social and legal environment could cause many good husband candidates to decide marriage isn’t for them.
Susan points out that women are surprisingly unaware of the reality of their own limited fertility:
During a recent story that aired on NPR one infertile woman in her early 40s couldn’t understand it. She insisted that she works out regularly, does yoga, even has a personal trainer. She eats well and is healthy. She never knew that her ovaries were becoming less productive in spite of those measures.
This is a classic case of a missing fear. Feminists worked to remove the fear even though the risks are real. From the NPR story Susan quotes (emphasis mine):
A decade ago, a campaign by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine sparked a vicious backlash. Ads on public buses in several big cities featured a baby bottle shaped like an hourglass, to warn women their time was running out. But women’s rights groups called it a scare tactic that left women feeling pressured and guilty.
However telling women the truth is cruel, as one woman in the NPR story complained:
I just feel like it’s something else they lump onto women that we have no control over,” says filmmaker Monica Mingo, who’s blogged about her decade-long effort to conceive.
Land Cruiser image from Axel Hammer.