“White privilege” and “male privilege” are familiar concepts in our cultural conversations. There is, however, another vast swath of unearned privileges that have gone largely unrecognized, even though they unfairly advantage about half of the adult population in the United States. We’re talking about marital privileges. People who marry enjoy social, cultural, economic, and political advantages that single people do not, simply because they are married.
Matrimania – the over-the-top hyping of marriage, weddings, and couples – is pervasive every day of the year, but it really gets ramped up over the holidays. So does singlism – the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against people who are single. Pitying single people practically becomes a national sport.
Here is my collection of writings on being single for the holidays. Don’t expect any singles-pity. But you may find the tables turned on those kinds of emotional practices. Enjoy!
[Bella’s intro: In Singled Out, I wrote a section called “The Command Team Wears Wedding Bands,” in which I described instances of singlism (stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against singles) in the military. Retired Navy veteran Roger Morris read the book and got in touch, saying that although he agrees that there is some singlism in the Navy, he also thinks there are important ways in which the Navy is a pretty great place to be single. I invited him to share his views and he did so here and here. Then, just recently, another single sailor got in touch with me about his own experiences and views of singlism in the Navy. I invited him to share his perspective, and that’s what you can read in this post. He wishes not to be identified so I’m just calling him “guest blogger.” Thank-you, guest blogger!
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 most of the 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.