Whitehead, Barbara Dafoe 1944–

views updated

Whitehead, Barbara Dafoe 1944–

PERSONAL: Born November 10, 1944, in Rochester, MN; daughter of William A. (a surgeon) and Muriel (a nurse) Dafoe; married Ralph Watson Whitehead, Jr., June 17, 1967; children: Ann, Sarah, John. Education: University of Wisconsin, B.A., 1966; University of Chicago, M.A., 1972, Ph.D., 1976. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Protestant.

ADDRESSES: Home—15 Forest Edge Rd., Amherst, MA 01002. Office—The National Marriage Project, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 25 Bishop Pl., New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1181; fax 732-932-2957.

CAREER: Institute for American Values, New York, NY, vice president; National Marriage Project, Rutgers University, Camden, NJ co-director. Serves on the Massachusetts Commission for Responsible Fatherhood and the Religion and Public Values Task Force of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

AWARDS, HONORS: Woodrow Wilson fellowship, 1967–68; Exceptional Merit in Media Award, National Women's Political Caucus and Radcliffe College, 1993, for article "Dan Quayle Was Right"; Editorial Excellence Award, Folio Magazine and The Cowles Foundation, 1994, for "The Failure of Sex Education."; D.H.L., Lawrence University.


The Divorce Culture, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.

(With David Popenoe) Should We Live Together?: What Young Adults Need to Know about Cohabitation before Marriage: A Comprehensive Review of Recent Research, National Marriage Project (New Brunswick, NJ), 1999.

Why There Are No Good Men Left: The Romantic Plight of the New Single Woman, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Also contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, American Enterprise, Commonweal, Wilson Quarterly, Times Literary Supplement, New York Times, Reader's Digest, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Slate, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal.

SIDELIGHTS: Barbara Dafoe Whitehead is a writer, sociologist, and advocate of family and marriage. She serves as the codirector of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University and is active in state and national organizations that encourage family solidarity, responsible fatherhood, and public values. Her first book, The Divorce Culture, analyzes the tremendous rise in divorce in America, searches for reasons behind it, and looks at the effects of divorce on children and society in general. Based on a controversial article Whitehead published in 1993 in the Atlantic Monthly, the book endorses the traditional nuclear family arrangement and affixes blame for a variety of social ills squarely on divorce, and by extension those who put their interests above those of family by seeking divorce. Her work makes clear that Whitehead is not a supporter of divorce, particularly in relationships that have produced children. She maintains that it is the institution of marriage that creates the strongest parent-child bonds, and that other forms of family arrangement such as single-parent, cohabiting parent, and step-parent families cannot provide equivalent levels of love, nurturing, socialization, and structure.

Whitehead provides considerable evidence to support her stance, including the results of scientific studies, a variety of statistics, and other material. She traces the rise of divorce to the increased female participation in the paid workforce, but also ascribes the high divorce rate to national changes in attitudes during the 1960s, particularly the idea that divorce is an individual issue and personal decision unrestricted by the needs or interests of other members of the family. "Divorce became 'expressive,' not a failure or an occasion for guilt but an opportunity for growth, the signature of a mature, accomplished identity, a validation leading to greater self-knowledge," as Eric P. Olsen explained in the World and I. "Whitehead's basic argument is both unsurprising and, in light of the increasing frequency of divorce, distressing," observed Corinna Vallianatos in the Washington Monthly.

Despite the book's earnestness, critics such as Vallianatos report that elements of Whitehead's argument veer toward the extreme, such as her suggestion that out-of-wedlock fathering is a potential precursor to child sexual abuse, and that single and cohabiting parents who bring new lovers into a home environment create a dangerous and erotically charged atmosphere antithetical to the sedate and affectionate environment of a traditional household. In the end, Whitehead endorses a widespread change in consciousness and in perceptions of divorce, in the hopes that those changes in thinking will illuminate the dangers of divorce and reawaken in people the desire for a traditional family household. The book's "main value is simply its existence, for if nothing else, The Divorce Culture is an invitation to truly serious reflection on a deeply problematic institution," commented Leslie Gerber in NWSA Journal. Robert L. Plunkett, writing in the National Review, concluded that the book is "potentially a seminal work. It should change the thinking of many who favor or are neutral on divorce. It will be a valuable source book for those who oppose divorce."

Whitehead explores the modern-day realities of dating and finding a stable, marriage-minded relationship in Why There Are No Good Men Left: The Romantic Plight of the New Single Woman. Though her research and interview subjects belong to a certain type of person—young, educated, good-looking, professional white women—Whitehead extrapolates from their experiences a representative experience for women in the early part of the twenty-first century. It is becoming more and more difficult for single women to find a suitable mate and establish a stable marriage, Whitehead notes. She identifies two major reasons for this evolution of marriage patterns in the post-baby-boomer generations. First, many woman are taking greater control of their own lives, particularly in terms of career and education. Woman are focusing on finishing school and establishing their professional careers before considering marriage. By then, however, they have left one of the most fruitful environments for mate-finding—school—and are left in a world where it is more difficult to meet and evaluate potential mates. Second, new methods of dating and courtship have evolved that did not exist before, such as Internet dating, paid matchmaking services, and speed-dating, in which men and women spend ten minutes or so with each other, getting acquainted and making preliminary assessments, before switching round-robin style to another potential suitor, where the process begins again. These new systems, according to Whitehead, have the potential to replace the traditional spouse-finding methods that seem to have faded away in the new millennium. A BookPage Web site reviewer called the book a "highly readable account of the single woman's plight," while Library Journal reviewer Margaret Cardwell declared it "an intriguing study of the culture in which young, well-educated women find themselves today." A Publishers Weekly contributor concluded: "Her engaging cultural assessment, while not novel, sheds light on a current problem many women now face."



Atlantic Monthly, December, 2002, Caitlin Flanagan, "Hothouse Flowers," review of Why There Are No Good Men Left: The Romantic Plight of the New Single Woman, p. 150.

Booklist, January 1, 1997, Patricia Hassler, review of The Divorce Culture, p. 792; December 1, 2002, Kristine Huntley, review of Why There Are No Good Men Left, p. 624.

Christian Century, February 1, 1995, Don Browning, "On Values: Talking with Peggy Noonan," p. 121.

International Herald Tribune, January 8, 2003, Patricia Cohen, review of Why There Are No Good Men Left.

Library Journal, February 15, 1997, Janice Dunham, review of The Divorce Culture, p. 152; January, 2003, Margaret Cardwell, review of Why There Are No Good Men Left, p. 136.

National Review, March 24, 1997, Robert L. Plunkett, review of The Divorce Culture, p. 52.

New Republic, April 14, 1997, Margaret Talbot, review of The Divorce Culture, p. 30.

New York, February 10, 1997, Walter Kirn, review of The Divorce Culture, p. 52.

New York Times Book Review, January 26, 1997, Fred Miller Robinson, review of The Divorce Culture, p. 21.

NWSA Journal, spring, 1998, Leslie Gerber, review of The Divorce Culture, p. 189.

Public Interest, spring, 1997, Midge Decter, review of The Divorce Culture, p. 115.

Publishers Weekly, December 2, 1996, review of The Divorce Culture, p. 48; November 25, 2002, review of Why There Are No Good Men Left, p. 56.

Reason, October, 1997, Nick Gillespie, review of The Divorce Culture, p. 63.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), February 9, 1997, review of The Divorce Culture, p. 6.

Washington Monthly, April, 1997, Corinna Vallianatos, review of The Divorce Culture, p. 52.

World and I, May, 1997, Eric P. Olsen, review of The Divorce Culture, p. 253.


Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs Web site, http://www.ashbrook.org/ (November 5, 2005), brief biography on Barbara Dafoe Whitehead.

Atlantic Online, http://www.TheAtlantic.com/ (October 5, 1994), review of The Divorce Culture.

BookPage.com, http://www.bookpage.com/ (November 5, 2005), Lynn Green, "Is Cohabitation All It's Cracked up to Be?," review of Why There Are No Good Men Left.

Mother Jones Online, http://www.mojones.com/ (November 6, 2005).

National Review Online, http://www.nationalreview.com/ (February 14, 2003), Kathryn Jean Lopez, "Single Hope," interview with Barbara Dafoe Whitehead.

Public Broadcasting Service, http://www.pbs.org/ (November 6, 2005).

Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (November 6, 2005), "Salon Daily Clicks/Sneak Peeks."

About this article

Whitehead, Barbara Dafoe 1944–

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article