On Being a Bachelor

My dad told me that I live like a bachelor. I’m not sure exactly what he meant by that. But I suspect he really wasn’t talking about my marital status or rather lack thereof.

Partly my lifestyle is different because I’ve spent around three quarters of my life severely depressed along with some cognitive deficits (e.g., learning disability). That relates to my having dropped out of college and now have a working class job, even though I’m smart enough to do a higher-skilled job. In thinking about the bachelor lifestyle, my dad might have been talking more about class. I’m fairly sure that, if I were either a rich bachelor or a poverty-stricken bachelor, I’d be living a far different lifestyle than I do as a working class bachelor with a unionized government job. Other than my inhabiting a small apartment, the way I live is probably more similar to the average working class married couple than to bachelors as a general category.

My parents grew up in working class communities. They spent their early years in smaller houses that weren’t up to middle class standards, which is to say a bit cluttered and not pristinely clean. As my parents moved up into the world, they both sought to escape the world they grew up in. I’m not sure what it is, maybe a slight sense of shame of where they came from. I know my mom was embarrassed to bring childhood friends home because of the condition of her family’s house.

I, on the other hand, grew up middle class. My childhood house, because of my mother, was always perfectly clean. And some of the family houses from my younger years were fairly nice, such as our South Carolina home (built for a judge) which was a stately two-story brick structure with a large front porch, balcony, and walled garden. My parents have gone to great effort to become not just middle class but upper middle class, and they’ve succeeded.

For whatever reason, I haven’t exactly inherited this upward mobile aspiration of good living and class respectability, although my brothers are more middle class in their sensibilities. I dress working class and my living space would look working class, if not for the walls being covered in shelves of scholarly and literary books. I have no desire to act or appear middle class. Despite raising me middle class, my mom instilled in me a working class attitude about life and apparently I took it to heart.

Class is such a strange thing. As my dad’s comment implied, class is often spoken of indirectly. More than anything, class is an attitude. If it was important to me, I could dress middle class, act middle class, and maintain a house to a middle class standard. I’m not poor and I’m intimately familiar with what it means to be middle class (proper manners, how to set a formal table, etc). I just don’t care to try, maybe simply because of depression or whatever. I’m content being working class, as it’s a simpler and more comfortable way of living. For example, I like my Carhartt clothing because it’s practical and, on a basic level, I’m all about practical (as my mom raised me). I didn’t grow up on a farm or in a factory town. I’ve never gone hunting, much less owned a gun, and I’ve never driven a pickup truck. I just look like that kind of person.

Here is where the issue of marriage vs bachelorhood fits in. It used to be that marriage was most closely identified with working class. But that has changed. Marriage rates are now higher with the middle class or what is left of the middle class. As the economy has gotten harder, there have been fewer advantages for the working class to get married and more stress driving working class marriages apart.

In the past, it was common for a man to have a good farm, factory, railroad, or mining job. This might even have included job security and good benefits. This often paid well enough that his wife didn’t have to work, instead her staying at home taking care of the house and kids. It was the traditional American family and, for generations, it was standard for the working class. But hard economic times, along with more opportunities, caused an entire generation of working class women to look for employment to help offset costs.

The traditional family came to have less value, as people had less time to spend with family and were less economically dependent on one another. Being married has increasingly become a luxury of class privilege. For the working poor, it can be cheaper for an individual to live alone or easier to get on welfare, especially in poor communities where most potential spouses are unemployed. The incentive structure at the bottom of the economic ladder doesn’t encourage marriage, as it once did.

So, bachelorhood and bachelorettehood, along with single parenting, has become more common among the lower classes. It’s a survival strategy or simply a hard fact of life. If you’re poor with a job, you have little reason to marry a poor person without a job. And if you are a poor person without a job, there is little reason for someone with a job to marry you. As for two unemployed poor people, even if they weren’t feeling desperate and with no future prospects, marriage would have little meaning or purpose, not even offering comfort in sharing misery with another. In communities with low employment rates, marriage has become rather pointless.

Being a lower class single person has a similar stigma to being lower class single parent, just without the kids. If I were rich and someone said I had a bachelor lifestyle, they’d mean I was living in a large empty mansion or upscale penthouse, living the high life involving vacations and traveling the world, parties and dating beautiful women who presumedly wanted me for my money, not to mention a maid to clean my house. But if I were a severely poor unemployed bachelor, my lifestyle would likely involve at best living in a single bedroom eating Ramen noodles and at worst living under a bridge drinking myself to an early grave. As I’m not either of those extremes, that isn’t what my dad meant when he brought up my bachelor status. But the implication was that my lifestyle was closer to the latter than to the former.

My aspiration is to one day live under a bridge. And with the economy going as it is, my dream may eventually come true. Maybe I’ll meet a nice homeless lady to shack up with and keep me warm at night. Oh, to dream…

Single Men and Human Biodiversity Theory

Over at hbdchick’s open thread, a person named ckp left a comment:

There’s the thesis that outbreeding among north-west Europeans contributed to their disavowal of nepotism, clan rivalries, advancement of capitalism, etc. They trusted distantly related people more than did their more inbred cousins in southern and eastern Europe. This brings me to my confusion – in European colonies the attitudes towards the natives seems to be the opposite of what this hypothesis would predict. Northwest Euro colonizers (British, Dutch, later the Germans ..) had very restrictive rules about how different ethnicities interacted with each other – segregation and apartheid. In contrast, the more clannish Euros mixed much more freely with the natives and imported slaves – the Portuguese are canonical examples, but the Spanish did the same. I would have thought that it would be the other way around.

Is this a problem for the hypothesis? Or is it accounted for in a way that I haven’t grasped yet?

Those are the kinds of observations I tend to make. I always have these nagging doubts about HBD theory, a sense that many aspects therein are dependent as much on the data excluded as the data included. There is so much data that it is hard to account for it all. I’ve specifically wondered about demographics like this about gender and marriage rates.

To hbdchick’s credit, she did her best to make sense of this data:

i think the difference probably stems from the differing migration patterns between the nw european colonizers vs. the iberians: the britich, dutch, and germans tended to migrate in whole family units — mom, dad, the kids (see Albion’s Seed on this, for example) — whereas the iberians tended to be mostly males (at least early on — i’m not sure why this was, actually — did they have an excess of second sons or what?). with the mostly male spaniards and portugese in the new world, of couse they were going to “fraternize” with the locals, because they wanted wives (and there were comparatively few iberian girls to choose from)! the nw europeans in north america — they were arriving with whole societies in tow — priests, merchants, farmers — and all with their families. they were really and truly transplanting themselves and their (ideal) societies in the new world.

If she were correct about this difference, the issue may well be fully explained. It is certainly correct that in the northernmost colonies immigrants were more likely to come as family. However, that wasn’t true for the colonies from the Dutch to the Deep South.

“Colonial New Netherland (New York), like Jamestown and other trading post colonies, attracted single men, few women, and even fewer families.
Dutch Americans by Herbert J. Brinks

“In sharp contrast to New England, which was settled mainly by families, most of the settlers of Virginia and neighboring Maryland were single men bound in servitude. Before the colonies turned decisively to slavery in the late seventeenth century, planters relied on white indentured servants from England, Ireland, and Scotland. They wanted men, not women. During the early and mid-seventeenth century, as many as four men arrived for every woman.”
Life in Early Virginia

​”a. Surviving males competed for the affections of the extremely scarce women, whom they outnumbered nearly six to one in 1650
b. Although they were still outnumbered by three to two at the end of the century, eligible women did not remain single for long
c. Families were both few and fragile in this ferocious environment; most men could not find mates and most marriages were destroyed by the death of a partner within seven years”
Chapter 4: American Life in the Seventeenth Century, 1607-1692

“Unlike the New England experience, where young, single men faced a high likelihood of marriage, bachelors in the Chesapeake often remained unmarried into their thirties or beyond.”
Single Men in America by Carl Robert Keyes

Furthermore, this trend of men outnumbering women was true beyond just the beginnings of a few British colonies. In general, “The majority of seventeenth-century English emigrants were poor, young, single men…” The reason for this is, coming “from the bottom rungs of English society”, that “Two-thirds of English settlers came to North America as indentured servants”; single male indentured servants, of course, being more sought after (also, maybe more available along with more willing).

In fact, this trend wasn’t just a general truth in the colonial era. It was also a general truth during the early American period and well into the 20th century. The reason it was so enduring is that America is an immigrant nation and American immigrants for most of our history have been disproportionately single men. This demographic and cultural history is explained well in a passage from David T. Courtwright’s Violent Land (Kindle Locations 69-87):

“Anyone who looks closely at the underside of American history will find mostly young and single men. They have accounted for far and away the largest share of homicides, riots, drug dealing, and the like. This pattern is common to all societies. But the American experience with young, single men has been unusually bad because, until recently, the country has had a higher proportion of them in its population than the European, African, and Asian nations from which its immigrants came. America’s violent history was played out with a bad hand of cards dealt from a stacked demographic deck. As an immigrant society America experienced a more or less continuous influx of youthful male workers, resulting in a population with more men than women for every year prior to 1946. In a monogamous society, many of these surplus young men could not marry. Insofar as young, single men are any society’s most troublesome and unruly citizens, America had a built-in tendency toward violence and disorder.

“The demographic tendency was heightened by cultural and social influences. American men, especially southerners and frontiersmen, were contemptuous of other races and touchy about personal honor, which they were inclined to defend by violent means. American men drank a great deal of hard liquor and grew up in cultures that equated drunkenness with obstreperousness. American men, particularly those of the lower classes, resisted attempts at religious conversion and the feminized style of life associated with it. They often took their recreation with other men in bibulous places of commercialized vice, such as gambling halls and saloons, thereby multiplying the opportunities for violent conflict. The guns and knives they carried increased the likelihood that such conflicts would have fatal results. When killings did occur the police and courts were often unable or indisposed to deal effectively with them.

“This mixture of demographic, cultural, and social characteristics guaranteed that American society would experience unusually high levels of violence and disorder, but not that American society would be uniformly violent and disorderly. These troublesome elements-the surplus of young men, widespread bachelorhood, sensitivity about honor, racial hostility, heavy drinking, religious indifference, group indulgence in vice, ubiquitous armament, and inadequate law enforcement-were concentrated on the frontier. An expanding subnation of immigrants within a larger nation of immigrants, the frontier was, at least as far as white Americans were concerned, the most youthful and masculine region of the country and, consequently, the one most prone to violence and disorder.’

“The frontier was the principal arena of single male brutality in American history. Tens of thousands of drunken and disorderly white frontiersmen perished prematurely, as did countless native and animal inhabitants whose territory they despoiled. Nor is the carnage entirely in the past. Insofar as the frontier experience has become a foundation of the national self-image-that is, insofar as Americans continue to think a manly man is someone with a gun and an attitude-it continues to influence the amount and type of violence in the United States, as well as our collective response to it.”

As Brian Ehresman wrote, along with mentioning of single males: “The South also did not have as good of relationships with the Native Americans as the other regions.” Now that is a major understatement. Even with New England’s rough relationship with the natives, there was a pathway to assimilation and there never was an equivalent to the Trail of Tears. Northern communities with strong foundations of family life, churches and civic-mindedness allowed for assimilation in a way not as possible in the South and it wasn’t for a lack of trying by the natives in the South. Prior to the Trail of Tears, the Cherokee went further than any other tribe to model their entire lifestyle on the example of white people, even owning slaves like their fellow white Southerners.

What made the Iberian and French people so much less clannish than the British? And what is the relationship between clannish cultures in immigrant nations and high rates of single male immigrants? Or is there any direct relation at all? The single male immigrants in the British colonial South had many native women who were theoretically available to marry, but these British men were apparently more resistant to going native than were the Iberian and French men. Why is that? Maybe it is because Iberia and France had long histories of ethnic mixing and so more collective experience with multiculturalism. But if so, how can this cultural element explained by HBD theory?

Here is my personal speculation. Maybe it has more to do with proximity to the Roman Empire and also the nations that maintained longest the political traditions of the Roman Empire. The empires of France, Spain and Portugal followed closest the example of the Romans.

The one thing that the Roman Empire did well that allowed them to survive for so long was multiculturalism. This multiculturalism wasn’t always about inter-marriage/breeding between ethnic groups. Actually, the Roman model purposely allowed for separate ethnic cultures such as the ethnic enclaves and islands of Jews. This model can still be seen in Spain and France to this day. Take for example the Basque who live along the border of these two countries or, as another example, the independent Roma in Spain.

I’ve also speculated that the only reason the United States has lasted as long as it has is because the Northern multiculturalism was able to moderate all of the diversity in this country. It was the South that nearly tore this country apart. The American culture that developed in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern region was in many ways a repeating of the pattern going back to the Romans. I’ve pointed out how William Penn was strongly influenced by French culture and how the French Huguenot immigrants had great influence in shaping important elements of American culture.

Just speculations, of course. Whatever one speculates, it is odd the correlation between single males and the enduring American culture of violence, xenophobia and racism. It is also interesting to note that, as this correlation weakened as the gender ration equalized in the late 1800s to early 1900s, the Southern states lost and the Northern states gained political power. Maybe the Civil War was essential in killing off so many of those single men and so allowing a shift in American culture to happen.