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.
There are a lot of “why are you single” lists popping up these days. I have mostly stopped clicking on the links. Maybe some of them are fine. Back when I used to look at them, though, far too often they came with an attitude that was insulting to single people – that all single people are single because there is something wrong with them and they need to be fixed. That’s an example of singlism and like all instances of that prejudice, it is unfair to single people. Only rarely did the authors ever concede that some people are single because that’s exactly what they want. Maybe they are even single-at-heart – not only do they like living single, but that’s how they lead their best, most meaningful, and most authentic lives.
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.)
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 articles in which I discussed research findings, I have provided a brief summary.
When I wrote Singled Out, I was just beginning to learn about singles in the military. Since then, I have learned more about the topic, and now, most recently, about singles in the Foreign Service, thanks mostly to people who have written guest posts. There has also been some research about how singles fare in their post-military days.
In the 1990s, when I decided to go beyond just collecting clippings and observations about single life, and look into the state of the published research, I consulted the definitive sourcebook for social psychological research.
The Handbook of Social Psychology is quite prestigious. Just about every graduate student in social psychology consults it, and most professors have it on their bookshelf. It is updated periodically. The first set of volumes was published in 1954, then updated in 1969, then again in 1985, and still again in 1998, which was the most recent version available to me at the time.
I looked in every index of every volume for some indication that social psychologists had something to say about single life. There was nothing.
Discovering that my cherished academic discipline was so silent about single life was one of the many motivators for my own research efforts.
I still have all of the volumes of all of the editions I consulted at the time, including even the very hard-to-find 1954 volumes. I even have extras of some of them. So I just made some of them available for sale at Amazon.com, using my own name as the seller. If you know of anyone who may be interested in these social psychological classics, feel free to spread the word.
This past Sunday, the first day of National Singles Week 2012, was such a fun day for me. A journalist from Taiwan who had read the Chinese translation of Singled Out asked if he could come to Summerland to interview me for his series on various forms of discrimination. He was from the United Daily News, the newspaper with the largest readership in the Taiwan area.
Mary Edwards says: The women in my family are independent, successful and strong. Every single one of us has a very sarcastic humor and easy going look on life. My sisters and aunts are all married but living a very even partnered marriage. If any of them were to be left by their husbands, I believe they would bounce back into singledom just fine. So naturally, I was shocked when I learned how much my family was concerned about my single status recently. My jaw literally dropped when my aunt told me, ‘You aren’t getting any younger.’
Just after I posted Undeterred, Rush Limbaugh bashes another single woman, Yasmin Nair sent me a heads-up about her own post on the Rush stuff. It is long, so I’ll post the first few paragraphs here, then give you the link so you can read the rest of it at her site. Yasmin Nair, by the way, contributed that wonderful essay, “Singular Friendships,” to the Singlism book.