Marriage or Career?

The trouble with choice is that if you give it to people, they hardly ever choose what you think they should.

For decades in the UK and other developed countries, a certain strain of particularly strident feminists (and the ‘liberal elite’) has been raging against the shackles of tradition that keep women trapped in the cultural expectation that they will marry instead of having a career. The overbearing paternalists who strive to keep women chained to the kitchen sink have been soundly beaten off and opportunities for women to choose their life path, go to university, and rise to the top of their chosen profession have never been better.

It is no longer expected that women will ‘settle down and have children’, and the very suggestion that they might prefer marriage to a career (read: prefer drudgery and servitude to success and independence) is guaranteed to send these liberal feminist commentators into the stratosphere with apoplectic fury.

Unfortunately (for them) the poor, downtrodden female populace doesn’t seem to be exactly welcoming this freedom with open arms. Sure, they like the fact they have choices, but given the choice, most of them would actually prefer marriage to a career.

Yes, you read that right: most women, when asked “If you had to choose between a career or marriage in your life, which one would you choose?” responded: Marriage.

The results come from this poll by ComRes, who interviewed over 2000 women across Great Britain in January this year. They reveal that in every age group, every social class and every region more women would choose marriage than career if they had to select one.

  • Over all 59% of women would choose marriage, 23% would choose career and the remaining 18% didn’t know which they would choose.
  • Even in the famously work-oriented metropolis of London, 57% picked marriage ahead of career.

ComRes have cut the data to create a group called ’25-35 ABC1′ which is effectively a group of well-educated, middle- or high-earning women who are most likely to be in the season of making decisions about career, marriage and family. In other words, these are people who have grown up with a cultural expectation that they will go to university then have a glittering career.  They’ve had the brains, the encouragement and the opportunity to make the choices the feminists have been fighting for, and fewer than a quarter of them (23%) would choose a career outright. 55% would choose marriage.

The only subsections in which this is not true are single women – of whom the same number (just under 40%) chose marriage as career – and people in civil partnerships who were also evenly split (44% marriage/43% career), though the number of respondents is too small to be statistically significant.

  • Married women – i.e. people who have tried it and know what they’re talking about – choose marriage by 76% to 11% (they’re also the group with fewest ‘don’t knows’).
  • Separated and divorced women – who we can surmise haven’t had the best experience of marriage – choose marriage over career (41% to 31% and 39% to 34% respectively).

The poll was released on 29 February, the day when it is traditionally considered ‘acceptable’ for a woman to propose, and although 79% of the women asked thought it was acceptable for women to propose then or any day, 53% of respondents said they would never propose (this question was only asked of unmarried women).

What does this tell us?

It says that whatever you might hear or read from the media, and whatever the militant feminists might want us to think, most women, given the choice, would opt for being married over having a career.

The question about proposals I think strengthens this finding, suggesting it is not because feminists haven’t managed to get their message across, but that these are genuine choices made by women who know they have the freedom. The proposal question suggests that the vast majority of women feel that it is perfectly culturally acceptable to propose – that is a choice which is open to them – but they are exercising their freedom to choose not to. Given the choice, they would prefer to be wooed, pursued and chosen than to be the pursuer.

Shock news: women prefer relationships to careers.

NB: This is not the same as saying women prefer relationships to success, which is what the feminists would have us believe. For women, to be in relationship is to be successful. We gain satisfaction and fulfilment from stable, committed relationships with men, and from having and caring for children. That’s what we love. That’s what we’re wired for, that’s what we’re designed for.

Women have great skills outside the home, too. All through history women have worked and done it successfully – even before they did it through choice. They have done it through economic necessity, and they have done it for enjoyment. Many women have remained happily single their whole lives, and been fruitful and productive and valuable members of society without having to feel in any sense belittled because of their lack of a husband. I’m not saying that marriage is the only way a woman can be happy or that all women should be forced to marry and to leave the workforce. Neither am I saying that it was better when women were belittled and in danger of destitution if they failed to secure a husband.*

What I am saying is, don’t be taken in by those who say the opposite, those whose goal in life is to convince women that marriage and motherhood are evil methods of subjugation and that our bounden duty is to cast off such shackles and liberate women everywhere. The Song our culture sings, persistently and persuasively, says that if only women knew the options open to them and could freely choose, they would choose freedom from the ‘old fashioned, outdated’ ways.

The New Song says ‘be thankful for the freedoms you have, but don’t be ashamed of choosing the path you were designed to follow, even if that challenges the prevailing cultural assumptions’.

Marriage may be facing challenges from culture, the media and politicians, but it remains incredibly popular among women. Who’d have guessed?

*Declared interest: For those who don’t know me, I should point out that I am, let’s say, past my mid-30s and single. I enjoy my work, I’m good at it and I add value to the company I work for. Given the choice, though, I’d leave it tomorrow if marriage to the right man were the alternative.

9 Comments On This Topic

  1. […] to back up the findings – in fact, they reveal some very surprising trends, as I discuss in this post. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post.   Leave a […]

  2. Lianne
    on Mar 12th at 8:53 am

    It’s a pointless question to start with, because the two states are not mutually exclusive.

    I’d love to hear why having a ring on one’s finger that prevents someone from being able to work, and vice versa?

    • Jennie Pollock
      on Mar 12th at 9:40 am

      Thanks Lianne, you’re right, the states aren’t mutually exclusive, but sometimes it’s helpful to force people to choose between two things which are both available to them to find out which they prioritise. See my response to Angela, below, for more thoughts.

      Thanks for joining the conversation!

  3. Angela Relle
    on Mar 12th at 8:59 am

    Your premise is completely wrong. The question asked was “if you had to choose between a career or marriage in your life”, i.e. if you could only have one, which would it be. This poll does not infer that women do not want careers, because it doesn’t ask a question about that. Many of us do actually enjoy having both a marriage *and* a career, maybe someone should find out how many of us feel like that and then, perhaps, you could draw a conclusion

    • Jennie Pollock
      on Mar 12th at 9:38 am

      Thanks Angela. You’re right that the poll doesn’t prove that women don’t want careers, but it does highlight which is the most important thing to them – those who genuinely couldn’t choose between the two selected ‘don’t know’.

      As Lianne said, the two states are not mutually exclusive, many women (and men) do want both, and juggle both very successfully, and I’m not implying that there is anything wrong with that.

      If I come across a survey asking how many women want both, I’ll be sure to write about it too!

      Thanks for stopping by.

      • angerelleAngela Relle
        on Mar 12th at 10:15 am

        You may not be implying there is anything wrong with choosing both a career and marriage, but you *are* drawing a false conclusion about how representative “liberal feminism” is.

        Other questions in that survey (for which the correct link is, by the way) are

        “Do you agree with the following statements”

        Women nowadays can choose to have both a career and a marriage – 92% agree

        Women nowadays are not concerned about whether they will ever get married or not – 51% agree.

        If you framed that same question to men, if you could only have marriage or a career, which would you choose, I wonder how many men would also come down on the side of marriage?

  4. Frances
    on Mar 12th at 9:29 am

    Funny how they never ask men whether they want a career or marriage – unless they’re being asked what they think of women’s choices.

    • Jennie Pollock
      on Mar 12th at 9:42 am

      Ha, that’s true! I wonder what the results of that would be. Any pollsters out there want to find out?

  5. Beth
    on Sep 12th at 4:53 pm

    There’s so much to pick up on here I don’t really have time to highlight it all, but suffice to say what I have the biggest qualms over is that I think the conclusions drawn are misleading. Forgive me if I misinterpret anything you’ve written due to getting riled but here goes:

    Okay, so, the question posed is a forced choice question, so regardless of the fact that women may have or want and believe they can achieve both the survey asked them essentially if they could only ever have one of these things again, which would it be. This is where the key point lies: I believe that if asked if they had to choose between ever having a loving committed relationship again or a career the majority choose love. I don’t think that means they’re choosing a “traditional” role and having children (because choosing this option in a poll doesn’t necessitate choosing being a housewife or child carer, it means choosing a committed long term relationship) over a career if they really are forced to choose. Which most people aren’t. It highlights how important people feel having loving relationships is and how people value this intense, wonderful emotion – that they rank it above success but NOT that the majority of women would go running to housewifery above a career (extrapolation?)). So the feminists as you say don’t have it wrong as far as I’m concerned (and I’m using this term loosely since I feel uncomfortable with the way it’s been presented here) – many and most with freedom would most certainly want a career I believe – but they don’t want to give up love to achieve it – and they don’t have to in the real world rather than survey world. The way the survey is carried out and the way you’ve interpreted results I disagree with (singular biased explanation to support your point rather than thinking about all possible meanings and explanations of results etc etc lacks academic rigour). At the very least without a thorough combination of qualitative semi structured interview and better designed, better informed and far more thorough quantitative data set I cannot take your conclusion seriously.

    Rant over 😛 Provocative piece though.


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