Among the many myths I busted in Singled Out were the ones that single people are isolated and self-centered. Research on those myths has continued to proliferate, and the results are very consistent. It is single people, more so than married people, who maintain ties with other people and who provide long-term help to people who need it.
Below are links to some of my writings on the topic, other than Singled Out. For most of the articles in which I discussed research findings, I have provided a brief summary.
Here are evidence-based ways in which single people are more connected to other people, provide more care for others, and are more generous than married people. This article also includes a discussion of why it matters that marriage has become such a “greedy institution.”
Ursula Henz analyzed the responses of a nationally representative sample of more than 9,000 British adults to the question, “Do you currently or have you ever regularly looked after someone, for at least three months, who is sick, disabled, or elderly?” She found that singles had done so more often than married people.
In a qualitative study of the care-work provided by 37 always-single women from England and Scotland, Roona Simpson found that “the expectation that caring for dependent family members is the duty particularly of spinsters, regardless of other commitments, is enduring and pervasive.” (She is not using the word spinster in a derogatory way but is instead reclaiming it, the way the GLBT community reclaimed the word queer.)
Singles are more likely than adults of other marital statuses to provide help to friends, neighbors, and coworkers, including transportation, errands, and shopping; housework, yard work, repairs, or other work around the house; and advice, encouragement, or moral or emotional support.
By following the same people over time, sociologist Lynn White found that those who got married had less contact with their siblings than they did when they were single, and those who got divorced had more contact than they did when they were married.
In a longitudinal study, people who got married or who began cohabiting were followed for six years. When they first entered a union, the participants had less contact with their parents and spent less time with their friends than they had when they were single. Between four and six years later, they still had the same reduced ties with parents and friends – the insularity that occurred when people got married was not just a honeymoon effect.
Contrary to stereotypes, married people are less connected to friends, neighbors, parents, and siblings than single people are. An explanation favored by pundits, that married people are too busy with their kids, ignores the fact that marital status and parental status are different, and it is also taken down by the evidence. As Naomi Gerstel and Natalia Sarkisian explain, “These differences in contacts and assistance emerge even if the married, never married, and previously married are the same age and have the same class position (similar amounts of income and education, and similar employment status). And the differences between the married and unmarried exist both among parents of young children and among the childless. They also exist among whites, African Americans, and Hispanics. Further, these differences exist for both women and men.”
Robin Dunbar suggests that when people get married, their spouse replaces one of their former friends and an additional friend gets dropped, too.
Who’s afraid of single people? (Lists many ways in which single people are more connected to other people than married people are.)