We begin a new academic year this week and it is time to refresh our curricula with a new field: Singles Studies.
This shouldn't come as a surprise. Despite the prevalent social and psychological forces that push people into marriage, our reality is inevitably changing and doing so rapidly. Today, unmarried individuals are the fastest-growing demographic in many countries. The number of individuals getting married has been decreasing across the Western world and indeed in some developing countries since the 1970s.
Simultaneously, those who do get married do so at a later stage of life, and among those who get married, there was a significant increase in divorce rates. For example, in the USA, the proportion of children living with two married parents decreased from 87 percent at the start of the 1960s to approximately 65 percent in the 2010s.
In addition to the rising average age of first marriage and increased likelihood of divorce, an increasing number of individuals are actively choosing to live by themselves. By one estimate, the number of single adults living alone increased 48 million worldwide in the past 12 year period.
We Must Prepare Our Students
If we want to address this growing trend, the education system should actively encourage the study and development of a happy and healthy singlehood. Since the early 1970s, the American school curriculum has been designed to include gender, ethnic, and environmental studies. Each of these topics is a worthy initiative that shatters fallacies, broadens perspectives, and promotes benevolent standpoints of ignored and disadvantaged populations.
However, because marriage is so ingrained in the social discourse, the importance of educating students about singlehood and preparing them for living the single life is still missing from most countries’ curriculum. Given that a quarter of today’s children will never marry and that 40-50 percent of those who do will divorce, it is essential to equip the coming generations with a social and psychological toolbox of how to live satisfying and fulfilling lives as singles.
Moreover, social workers, psychologists, and doctors should be trained to serve the singles population. Learning about singleness in schools and supporting high-quality solo lifestyles through the health and welfare ministries, exactly as is done with family life, are essential to our society.
Special information points in schools should also be set up and school counselors should dedicate at least one meeting a year to the subject. Today’s children need these services for their own wellbeing as well as for understanding and accepting the many singles who will surround them in their adult lives as we as in their current reality.
Academia should also play a role in preparing future generations for the possibility of being single. Until now, the vast majority of academic research was based on the obsolete assumption that marriage should dominate adult life. As a result, singles are underrepresented and even misrepresented in scholarship and policy papers.
Teaching and research in colleges and universities should recognize the single lifestyle as a legitimate field of study in and of itself. By better understanding the psychological, social, and even physical repertoire of happy and healthy singles, it will be possible to make recommendations on how to improve single living and prepare students to accept and celebrate solo going if they choose so.
We cannot ignore single studies and education anymore. We are open to various sexual identities, we celebrate different ethnicities, and we tolerate a wide array of political views, yet we still live in a society where singles, especially in advanced adulthood, are urged to couple up or otherwise face prejudices.
These stereotypes hurt both singles and couples. Singles – whether they are divorced, widowed or never-married – clearly suffer by being socially excluded or by being burdened with extra work, while their bosses assume they have “spare time.”
But this does not mean married people are not harmed by these prejudices as well. The same stereotypes pressure many couples to marry although they might not be sure if they are ready for such a big commitment. Couples might marry only to realize later they made a bad or premature decision.
Singles studies in schools and universities will prepare singles and couples alike to accept whatever marital status they are in and choose their next steps freely. They will know how to navigate the solo lifestyle and will feel good about themselves and their surroundings regardless of their marital choices and circumstances.