New research documents the strengths, values, and resilience of single people.

March 16, 2019

 

For decades, single people have been relentlessly stereotyped, stigmatized, and marginalized — including even by social scientists. With wearying regularity, we have been told that single people are miserable creatures with terrible eating habits, and if only they would marry, they would become happy and healthy.

The early claims were based on unsophisticated studies and dubious interpretations of the findings. Now, finally, research is becoming much more impressive, and the findings suggest something entirely different. More than a dozen long-term studies have shown that when people marry, they become no happier than they were when they were single (except, sometimes, for a brief increase in happiness around the time of the wedding). If they marry and then divorce, they become less happy than they were when they were single. Studies of health undermine the old claims even more. People who marry describe their overall health as either no better or a little worse than when they were single.

The important question is, why? How is it possible that single people, who continue to be targets of singlism (stereotyping and discrimination), are doing so well?

We now have a whole new set of answers, thanks to a just-published book, Happy Singlehood: The Rising Acceptance and Celebration of Solo Living, by Hebrew University sociologist and fellow Psychology Today blogger, Elyakim Kislev. Professor Kislev drew from interviews of 142 single people in the U.S. and Europe, and a close reading of hundreds of blog posts, newspaper and magazine articles, and social media comments and posts for his book. What I will focus on here is something else: the results of his analyses of data on hundreds of thousands of people from more than 30 European nations, plus the United States.

In my joyful romp through the pages of Happy Singlehood, I found evidence for 19 ways that single people are doing far better than the stereotypes of single people have led us to believe. Kislev documented their accomplishments and wise choices, their values, and what they get out of their values. He also found evidence of discrimination against singles and the special challenges they face; that single people are doing so well despite those obstacles is further evidence for their resilience.

Different kinds of unmarried people have different experiences, so Professor Kislev often looks separately at never-married (or always-single), divorced or separated, and widowed people. When data on cohabiters are available, he includes them, too. Cohabiting couples are legally single (because they are not officially married and don’t get access to the many legal benefits and protections that come with marriage), but socially coupled (because they act like couples and are usually viewed and treated like couples).

 

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