The Age of the Bachelor

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In The Age of the Bachelor: Creating an American Subculture, Howard P. Chudacoff considers the numbers, family circumstances and backgrounds, employment, and leisure activities of single American men, as well as their reasons for remaining unmarried. He analyzes these areas historically, using a variety of support for his arguments, such as census figures, reportage, and testimony from personal journals.

Chudacoff’s conclusions about the earliest and the most recent periods of American history are naturally tentative. There is less, and less reliable, documentary information for the late eighteenth century and less context for the last decade of the twentieth. As a result, he concentrates on the hundred years between 1870 and 1970, moving before and beyond them whenever he reliably can.

His consistent argument that emerges is that the role of single men in America has always been equivocal. American culture, privileging marriage, largely considers single men suspect. Even so, it paradoxically admires their independence and theoretically greater potential for affluence. Chudacoff also notes that American single men have always formed a subculture, whether through their activities, friendships, or gathering-places.

Significantly, American single men are not countercultural. They prefer to remain unobtrusive and to conform in most respects to the larger American society. This is as true for homosexual as for heterosexual single men. Changing roles of women and the sexual revolution increased the numbers of single men in America in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but only temporarily. Marriage, despite frequent divorce in the late twentieth century, has always remained the preferred state.

Still, more men than ever live singly as a result of divorce, even as the rate of marriage rises. Chudacoff consistently enlivens such relatively abstract statistics with anecdotal support, and this makes his study appropriate for a general as well as a specialized audience. Period illustrations and photographs support an informative and entertaining text.