Why an increase in the number of singles isn’t a bad thing
“A growing share of American adults are living without a spouse or partner,” a report just released by the Pew Research Center said. The report also documents the ways in which single men lag behind men in relationships economically.
The report unleashed a torrent of singlism (stereotypes and stigmatization of singles) and matrimanie (the glorification of marriage and mating). At PBS, for example, claims that singles “fail in life” or show “arrested development” have been brushed aside. TO Time magazine, anonymous sociologists believed that “having a partner suggests having a future”.
I have devoted the last decades of my life to pushing aside these derogatory accounts of single life. In their place, I have provided a more affirmative account of what it means to be single, based on research, not prejudice.
Half of Americans without a partner are not interested in finding a partner
Discussions of the Pew Report are often obsessed with romantic perspectives. If men fall behind economically, will women still want to marry them? Don’t they want men who are at least in the same league as them? And if women cannot find suitable men, horrors! They may end up staying single.
Last year, Pew published a report on the love interests of singles, those who weren’t married, who weren’t living with a romantic partner, and who weren’t in a romantic relationship. Based on a nationwide random sample of Americans 18 and older, they found that 50 percent of those singles aren’t interested in a committed romantic relationship, and they’re not even interested in dating. .
All of this talk about the possibility of getting married means little to people who just aren’t interested in getting married or even dating.
For many, single life is a good life, better than any other alternative
People who fear the growing number of singles have an old-fashioned view of single life as a sad fate that some people are stuck with. It is true that some single people yearn to be paired up, but as I just showed, not as much as our mainstream narratives suggest.
For people who are “single at heart”, the single life is their best life – it is more joyful, fulfilling and meaningful than any other alternative. For them, and even for some who like to live single but are still open to coupling, the single life offers deep rewards, as I described in a recent “Living Single” article.
Discussions of the decline in the economic fortunes of single men omitted some important points
Of course, the decline in the economic fortunes of singles is a bad thing. Single men, in particular, have lagged behind men in a relationship in their employment rates and the amount they are paid. These findings sparked a wave of predictable proclamations about the supposed superiority of married men as workers.
I watched this for Distinct and found research showing that married men tend to spend more time on the kind of work that pays off – for them. They tend to work longer hours than single men. But if they divorce and then remarry, they work fewer hours than when they got divorced. Single men tend to spend more hours on work that can benefit a lot of people other than themselves. For example, they give more of their time to farm organizations, unions and professional societies.
More recent research, published in 2020, shows that lower employment rates and lower wages for single men are likely at least in part due to discrimination against them, rather than greater merit from married men. . In a study in which single and married men had identical qualifications and characteristics, employers wanted to survey more married men, and they also wanted to pay them more. It’s also possible that one of the reasons married men work longer hours (when they do) is because employers give them more hours while single men also wanted more hours.
Discussions about the living conditions of singles omitted some important points
Among the evidence gathered for the supposed worsening of the plight of single men is the fact that more men without a partner than men in a relationship live with their parents. For single men who live with their parents and wish they weren’t, that’s a bad thing.
It is wrong, however, to shame anyone for living with their parents. Young adults today and their parents often really enjoy each other’s company. It’s not the 1970s anymore. And for some groups and places, living with parents is very valued.
Discussions of the growing number of single men living with their parents assume that parents support their adult children. And sometimes they are. It is also true, however, that single people, including single men, are more likely than married people to provide care when their aging parents need it. This is true for black sons and daughters as well as for whites.
Some single women who live with their parents are mothers. Overall, their children are doing remarkably well. A study of over 11,000 adolescents from 10 different household types found that adolescents living with their single mothers and at least one grandparent did at least as well as adolescents of married parents in graduating from school. secondary, enroll in university, do not smoke. , and not to drink. If their mothers had always been single, they tended to do even better than teenage girls whose parents were married.
Single people are not just more likely to live with their parents; they are also more likely than people in a couple to live alone. As I explained here before, people who live alone can have special forces that are rarely recognized. For single men in particular, who live alone longer than men of previous generations, this experience can be transformational, providing significant benefits for them later in life.
The power of singles grows
To celebrate Singles Week in 2019, I documented the growing power of singles, in 10 Important Trends. This growing weight starts with their growing numbers and continues with how singles and the important people in their lives get more positive attention and respect. Even a potentially disturbing report, like Pew’s recent, cannot reverse these trends.