Young Couples and the Economy in Suzy Hansen’s For Poorer and for Poorer

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Last updated: March 30, 2019

Suzy Hansen’s For Poorer and for Poorer (2003) is a frank discussion of what awaits young couples who are trying to start a new life together in the current economic crisis.

For Hansen, the dismal state of the economy today would definitely force many young couples to abandon their dreams of a glorious marriage and a happy and prosperous family life (Hansen, 2003). For those who are still unmarried, it would be best to remain as such until the crisis subsides. But for those who have already tied the knot, preparation for the harsh economic realities that would ensue is important.The 1990s and the New Millennium: A Tale of Two GenerationsHansen started her article with a comparison between the respective economies of the 1990s and the new millennium. She argued that most young couples who are currently intending to get married grew up in the prosperous 1990s. During this decade, “a new economy was taking shape, jobs were plentiful and terrorism was something that happened far, far away” (Hansen, 2003).

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Such opulence produced in them the belief that “the future (was) endless” (Hansen, 2003). In the process, however, they became less vigilant about sudden downturns in the economy.The 9/11 IronyVarious article pointed out that 9/11 virtually triggered an outbreak of marriages, particularly among young couples. This phenomenon is no longer surprising – 9/11 created a sense of fear among people that they might become the next victims of terrorist attacks the moment they stepped out of their homes. For those who were sent to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, the prevailing mindset was that they might get killed in the battlefield. Thus, the sudden urge to get married became commonplace.But such overly romanticized motives for getting married strongly clashed with bleak economic realities. The Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s had strong, detrimental economic repercussions on both the United States and Europe.

These two regions started losing whatever economic gains they accumulated in the 1990s. By the time 9/11 took place, most businesses in the US and Europe had started to fold up, with ordinary citizens bearing the brunt of these occurrences.No Money, No Honey.

The closing down of an enterprise automatically means layoffs – and marital crises. In the US, financial problems account for about 80% of divorces. And for a good reason – unemployment can severely affect a person’s self-esteem.

Of the two partners, the employed one may start feeling angry and put-upon at having to bear most of the family’s financial responsibilities. The other partner, meanwhile, may also feel angry to cover up the deeper fear of finding him or herself so dependent. One or both of them might build up reserves of anger that can lead to fights, separation and divorce.Unemployment, however, can be more difficult for men. Traditionally regarded as the breadwinners of their families, the reality that they do not have work while their partners do have can be detrimental to their sense of masculinity.

The frustration at not being able to fulfill the said societal norm is evident in Hansen’s male respondents. “I think of myself as enlightened…But there’s still the male thing; that you’re supposed to provide. There are lots of things that I’d like to do for Risa – like taking her on vacations or to nice restaurants – but I can’t,” says Matthew Beckwith, a 36-year-old former Internet executive in San Francisco (Hansen, 2003).For women, on the other hand, a partner’s unemployment may have two possible effects.

Women who do not work outside the home may resort to very humiliating means just to put food on the table. “It was humbling to go get food stamps,” says Anna Boudinot, a 25-year-old graduate of New York University’s prestigious Tisch School for the Arts who lost her job in December 2002 (Hansen, 2003). “Sitting there with people who were clearly homeless and knowing that we had something in common,” she adds (Hansen, 2003).Those who attempt to look for work – and end up unsuccessful – may appear less desirable to their partners. Anna echoes this sentiment: “When I come home miserable, he won’t come near me…The absence of sex makes you feel worse. You think, I got fired from my job and they don’t want me, I go on interviews and they don’t want me, and I come home and even my boyfriend doesn’t want me” (Hansen, 2003).

Although Anna and her partner, 25-year old Army veteran Glenn McDorman (also unemployed), would love to have a family in the future, financial problems are forcing them to resort to abortion should get pregnant by accident. For Anna, this decision makes her feel diminished as a woman: “I’m not antiabortion, but having an abortion just because I couldn’t afford to have a child is one of the most horrible things I can imagine having to go through” (Hansen, 2003).ConclusionHaving grown up in the prosperous 1990s rendered many of today’s young couples unprepared for raising a family amidst the current financial crunch. It likewise did not help that many of them were thrust into marriage for the wrong reason – the fear of sudden death due to terrorist attacks. As a result, their relationships are characterized with frustrations and constant quarrelling over money.

Men who lose their jobs may feel that their masculinity is diminished due to their inability to provide for their partners. Women, on the other hand, may feel that they are neglecting their partners because they are forcing them to make do with a tight budget.But there might still be some hope for these couples. Hansen noted at the end of her article that none of her respondents “(blamed) anyone – not Wall Street, not George Bush, and most of the time, not each other – for their financial straits” (Hansen, 2003). Such a proactive mindset – taking responsibility for one’s current situation – is the first step towards overcoming a problem. When combined with hard work and determination, it will definitely help them steer past the present economic crisis with their relationships intact.


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