Single people are too often stereotyped and stigmatized. They are pitied while married people are celebrated. Yet single life can be tremendously meaningful and fulfilling. It is time for a more accurate, research-based portrayal of single people and single life—one that recognizes the real strengths and resilience of people who are single, and what makes their lives so meaningful.
Bella DePaulo Ph.D. is a social psychologist and the author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After (link is external) (St. Martin's Press) and How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century (link is external) (Atria), and other books (link is external). Atlantic magazine described Dr. DePaulo as “America’s foremost thinker and writer on the single experience.” In Singled Out and in her other work on people who are single, DePaulo has drawn from social science data to challenge the stereotypes of people who are single.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
I shared just such a portrayal in a plenary address I was invited to give at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, “What No One Ever Told You about People Who Are Single,” in Denver, Colorado, on August 5.
Here are some highlights:
Single people rule. There are more unmarried Americans 16 and older than there are married Americans.
Single life is the better part of our adult lives: Americans spend more years of their adult lives unmarried than married.
People who are “single at heart” embrace single life. Living single is how they live their best, most authentic, most meaningful lives. They are not single because they have "issues" or because they have not found "The One."
Claims that getting married makes people happier, healthier, and more integrated into society are grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong.
People who get married do not end up any happier than they were when they were single.
People who get married do not end up any healthier or less depressed than when they were single, nor do they enjoy any higher self-esteem.
People who marry become more insular. They were more connected to parents and friends when they were single.
When studies seem to show that getting married is beneficial, the explanation may be singlism and matrimania (as well as biased analyses) rather than any social support or social monitoring that goes on within a marriage.
In some studies, lifelong single people do better than everyone else, even when the analyses are biased against them. For example, these studies include analysis of the overall health of more than 11,000 Canadians; of the cancer risk of more than 33,000 Italians; of several measures of health of more than 10,000 Australian women in their 70s; and an American study of the health, well-being, and resilience of wounded warriors.
Social scientists overwhelmingly study marriage and married people. Lifelong single people are mostly ignored, except as a comparison group in studies of marriage.
- [through 17.] When people are drawn to single life and when they thrive there, it is for positive and deeply significant reasons, such as:
- Singles savor their solitude and its profound rewards.
- Singles embrace bigger, broader meanings of relationships and love. They care about “the ones,” not just The One.
- Singles develop a diversified portfolio of skills. The kinds of tasks that newly divorced and newly widowed people need to learn are ones that lifelong single people have already mastered.
- Singles contribute in meaningful ways. They do a lot of volunteering, and they do more than their share of caring for aging parents and people who need help for three months or more, even when those people are not family members.
- Singles value opportunities to pursue their interests and passions and do the work they care about the most. They care more about meaningful work than married people do. Lifelong single people develop a greater sense of autonomy over time than people who stay married.
- Lifelong single people experience more personal growth and development than people who stay married.