My primary interest is in people who are single. Marital status (or coupled status) is a separate issue from parental status. You can be single with kids or married with no kids. I know that’s obvious but the two are conflated all the time. In this post, I want to focus on the “no kids” part.
Earlier in my research life, I studied the psychology of lying and detecting lies. I knew nothing about the academic research on single life or marriage. I just knew the media narrative proclaiming that if only single people would get married, they would be happier, healthier, live longer, and forever enjoy sugar and spice and everything nice. Even though I loved living single myself (except for all of the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination that I call singlism), I had no reason to disbelieve the conventional wisdom. Until, that is, I actually started reading the original research reports on marital status and life outcomes. I was stunned to find that the many claims about the supposedly transformative effects of getting married were almost always exaggerations, misrepresentations, or just plain wrong. Setting the record straight was one of my motivations for writing Singled Out.
Since that book was published, media claims about the supposed benefits of marrying just keep coming. I have continued to critique one claim after another. Each time, I study the original research report rather than simply relying on press releases. It is amazing what you can find when you actually read the academic articles.
I have been collecting my critiques (and some of my other writings) and organizing them by topic. Below are the ones I have so far. (You may need to scroll down after clicking each link.)
Claims that if only you get married, you will get happier, are ubiquitous. They are also wrong. There are embarrassing methodological flaws that sully many of the studies used as the basis for those claims. Some of the flaws are so fundamental, that any social scientist who does not recognize them should be run out of the field.
Because of the prominent mention of people who are single-at-heart in the New York Times, I have been getting more inquiries than usual about what it means to be single-at-heart. Research on the concept is just beginning. Below are links to what I have written so far, and what I have learned from the first 1,200 people who took the single-at-heart survey.
In 2005, Wendy Morris and I were invited to write the target article, “Singles in society and in science,” for the journal Psychological Inquiry. This was my very first publication about singles. Ten commentaries were written by scholars in a variety of disciplines, and Wendy and I responded to those commentaries.This double-issue of the journal was the result.
Over at the Huffington Post, a post titled Holiday Advice for the Single Woman: 8 Reasons to Enjoy It, is getting teased this way:
“Instead of feeling down on yourself the next time Grandma asks you when you are going to meet a nice boy and give her grandkids, focus on why it’s sweet to be single over the holidays.”
Sitting in my favorite chair, sipping a cup of dark roast, I realized my 59th birthday is three months away. After a moment of terror, I fell into thinking about my life so far and where 58 years has “brought” me: I am approaching 60, was laid-off 6 months ago, I’m unattached, and starting my fifth career. The only constant in my life I could come up with, the one thread tying the patchwork pieces together, is depression.
“Wow,” I said to my cats, “the pinnacle of almost six decades of living! I never could have imagined.” Then, I did what anyone in this situation would do, I laughed. I don’t know what else to do with life sometimes. Besides, though my pinnacle of achievement is not as stupendous as I thought it would be by now, I’m happy (when I’m not depressed).