If you get married, will you get more sex and better sex? So far as I know, a methodologically persuasive study has never been done. That would involve following people over time as they stayed single or got married or got unmarried, and seeing how their sexual behavior and sexual satisfaction changed (or didn’t change) with those transitions. All we have are studies that compare married and single people at one point in time. You can never know from those kinds of studies if any differences really are about being married vs. single or whether they are about any of the many other ways that married and single people differ other than in their marital status. With that qualification, here’s what we know.
The assumption that if you get married, you will get healthier is so much a part of our conventional wisdom that it is rarely challenged. Back when I was just practicing single life and not studying it, I had no idea that the supposed truism was actually a myth. I figured that out fast, though, once I started going to the original research reports and scrutinizing them. I drew from what I had learned from decades of doing research and teaching graduate courses in research methods, but some of the mental errors in the claims about the research are so egregious that you should not need any formal training to realize how ridiculous they are.
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.
Way too many people think that married people live longer. They think it is a fact. It is not. I have been debunking this for years, starting with Singled Out. Every time a new study comes out that is relevant to the myth of the long-living married people, I take a close look to see what it really says.
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.
In Singled Out, I devoted a chapter to debunking the myth that the children of single parents are doomed. I described various studies and showed how the results are exaggerated or misrepresented. I also reviewed studies inconsistent with the doom-and-gloom narrative; they, unfortunately, get little media attention.
New studies have been published since then, so I have continued to address the topic. There is also lots of panic around single parenting and some overwrought media stories and political proclamations. I’ve critiqued those, too.
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.
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.
Solo dwellers, we have our book! Eric Klinenberg’s book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, will be published tomorrow. My advanced copy is already dog-eared. At Living Single, I explained why I think this book will become a social science classic, read by students, scholars, and smart readers everywhere for years to come. At my Single at Heart blog, I shared 12 of the surprising facts you can learn about living alone from Going Solo.