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Writing about gender roles of the 1950s, Betty Friedan once defined the “suburban housewife” as “the dream image of the young American woman.” Just as prescriptive literature of the 19th century geared to the middling classes emphasized women’s “true” place in society as mother and wife, the 1950s saw an ideal perpetuated in books, magazines, movies, television, songs, and ads that depicted the white, middle-class woman fulfilled only by a happy marriage.The following article from a popular magazine of 1960 offered a sociological survey of the more than one-third of adult American women whose lives did not fit this domestic norm.

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By the time she is 50, the chances she will marry are just one in 16, and after 60, her chances drop to one in 62.Undaunted by the statistics, most American women without men make repeated (if sporadic) attempts in the direction of marrying throughout their lifetimes—often in ways that would have scandalized the proper Victorians.Spasmodically, they go in for sports, becoming members of ski clubs, riding clubs, golf clubs.They save their money for cruises—often discovering, once the ship is at sea, that they are trapped with dozens of other unattached women like themselves.“The problems of the single, divorced and widowed women are more difficult,” an experienced psychiatrist says.

“But probably a common denominator in this group is that they feel they are not getting much out of life—not accomplishing as much as they are capable of.“But,” cries a beautiful 32-year-old divorcee, “I’ve been abroad for two years now, and what do I meet?Old bachelors living smugly on their little incomes, or young bachelors who want to live smugly on my big income.How can you meet a man there and be sure of his background? (The head of one of New York’s local Democratic clubs says, “They go from club to club to meet men; we call them Carpetbagging Liberals.”) Others go to evening classes at universities, taking courses in such subjects as “How to Sail a Boat,” with the hope that it will attract men.Some of them join a number of churches in succession, interested less in finding God than in finding a husband.Almost to a woman, those I interviewed said the same thing: “I have only one problem.