Newsweek: OK, singles, now you can worry about terrorism

Twenty years later, the magazine says you might get married after all.

Published May 24, 2006 1:00PM (EDT)

Surely you remember the 1986 Newsweek cover story called "The Marriage Crunch," which reported that based on a then-new demographic study, a single 40-year-old white woman is "more likely to be killed by a terrorist" than to get married. We hope you also remember that Susan Faludi proved that the study, and Newsweek's orange-alert inference, were wrong, and not just because women are actually even more likely to be killed by terrorists than anyone had realized. In fact, Faludi's debunking, originally a newspaper article, is what became the basis for (and the introduction for) her hugely successful book "Backlash." In that context, the study was just another (specious) reminder that women who value climbing the ladder over settling down will get their just, lonely rewards.

Twenty years later, Newsweek is finally eating crow -- and practically serving wedding cake. "Months [after 'The Marriage Crunch' ran], other demographers came out with new estimates suggesting a 40-year-old woman really had a 23 percent chance of marrying. Today, some researchers put the odds at more than 40 percent," reads the new article, which also sputters an aside that that "terrorist" thing -- the "terrorist" thing that "quickly became entrenched in pop culture" (Oops! Our bad!) -- "wasn't actually true."

The new piece also features one of the 14 then-doomed singles interviewed in 1986. Guess what? She got married at 40 and remains blissfully so at 50. "I've watched a lot of people [who married while young] get divorced," she says. "I think that if you do wait until Mr. Right comes along, you have a much better chance of survival."

Of the other 10 singles Newsweek was able to track down, seven had married; three remained single. None had divorced.

Of course, a lot has changed since 1986 -- even since the second study with better odds the same year. Newsweek cites, for instance, advances in fertility treatment "that have made women worry a little less about biological clocks" (that's a story for another day) and the benefits of online dating for "older" singles. Also, some -- some -- of the pressure is off, now that it's "cool" to be single. (Hey, thanks!) Much as the dark powers of the "backlash" would like us all to get married, they're doing battle with an equally powerful force: money. Which, as marketers have discovered, single people spend as part of their "lifestyle." The people who sell cosmos and Blahniks (not to mention homes, cars and diamonds): They'd like folks to keep playing the field.

Anyway, the real happy ending here is not necessarily the "improved" odds of marriage, it's the fact that (two decades later!) Newsweek is reexamining itself, and reality. Of course, without a snappy new sound bite ("Women over 40 are more likely to get married than they are to be mauled by a shark!"), we'll see exactly how "entrenched in pop culture" this "news" winds up.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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