As the number of single people continues to grow, now reaching somewhere around half of all adults in the U.S., it is getting harder and harder to insist that all these single people are sad and lonely and bemoaning their status. There are now well over 100 million single people. (I’ll address the question of whether there are really more single people than married ones in the U.S. in a later post.) It is time to stop assuming that they all want to know what they did “wrong” to end up single or how they can be “fixed up,” as if they are somehow broken. Sure, some people would like to be married. But plenty actually love their single lives and intend to remain single. I’ve named this blog, “Single at Heart,” after those people.
Even the single people who eventually want to marry are rarely just wallowing in self-pity about their single status. Increasingly, they want to live their single lives fully and joyfully, and take advantage of every opportunity that single life offers.
So what is it that single life does offer to those open to embracing it?
In the Netherlands, a publication called Individual and Society is about to publish its 100th issue. They have a theme – the state of single people around the world. They have asked people in different countries to write brief overviews of single people in their country, which they will translate into Dutch. They asked me to write about singles in the U.S. Below is the first draft of what I submitted to them.
How Many Adults in the United States Are Not Married?
The number of single people in the United States has been growing for decades. In 1970, only 28 percent of all American adults, 18 and older, were single (divorced, widowed, or always-single). By 2013, that number had increased to 44 percent.
Most single people, 62 percent, have always been single. Another 24 percent are divorced, and the other 14 percent are widowed.
How Do Single (Unmarried) Americans Live?
The vast majority of unmarried Americans are not living with a romantic partner. Of the 105 million Americans 18 and older who were not married in 2013, only 14 million of them were cohabiting.
The popularity of living alone has increased greatly over time. In 1970, 17 percent of all American households were comprised of one person. By 2013, 27 percent of all households were 1-person households; that equates to 34 million Americans living alone.
Of the 105 million unmarried Americans, only 34 million live alone and only 14 million live with a romantic partner. That means that most single Americans live with other people such as friends, family members, roommates, or some combination.
What Is the Political Status of Single People in the United States?
Single people are targets of systematic discrimination in the United States. Just on the federal level, there are more than 1,000 laws affording benefits and protections only to people who are legally married. Many of these are tax benefits. Single people are also disadvantaged in their old-age pensions (Social Security). Single people cannot give their Social Security benefits to anyone else when they die; and, no other person can give their Social Security benefits to …
In my previous post, “Why are you single? International edition,” I described what single people in Poland had to say about why they were living single. The research came from Julita Czernecka’s book, Single and the City. In her research, the author interviewed 60 financially stable college graduates between the ages of 27 and 41 who had not been in a serious romantic relationship for at least two years, had never been married and had no children.
Here I want to share more about the lives of single people in Poland, and add some of my own observations about how their experiences seem to compare to those of single people in the U.S.
By now, you have probably seen far too many of those “why are you single” articles. Way too often, the authors treat singlehood as a disease that needs to be cured, and they tell you what you did wrong that led you to get (or stay) sick. I’ve made fun of those singles-bashing lists and also offered some more positive takes on single life in The Real Reasons for Living Single.
In addition to the disease-mentality, there is something else that is troubling about those articles – they are almost always just the opinions of some outside observer. They rarely ask single people what they think about their single lives.
Happily, that has changed with a new typology offered by the Polish sociologist Julita Czernecka, author of Single and the City. She asked a select group of Polish single people – 30 men and 30 women – to talk about their single lives. The people she interviewed are not a representative sample of Polish singles, so her results are more suggestive than definitive. I think they provide a good alternative, though, to people who offer nothing but their own opinion as to why other people are single.
The 60 singles Czernecka interviewed fit the profile of people she was most interested in learning about. They were financially stable college graduates between the ages of 27 and 41 who had not been in a serious romantic relationship for at least two years. None had ever been married and none had children, but they were all still old enough to have children if they ever wanted to.
Here are the 5 types of single people she found. (She did not say how many were in each category.)
[From Bella: This is Part 2 from guest blogger Gabriela Denise Frank. Part 1 is here: Are You 'Other' If You Are Not a Mother? Part 1.]
Are You ‘Other’ If You Are Not a Mother? Part 2.
Guest Post by Gabriela Denise Frank
First, we must stop relegating single and childless women into a separate caste. (I hate to even write the word ‘childless’ as if this somehow means that’s we’re lacking, but what other word is there, child-free?) Point being, when half of females of child-bearing age today are actually childless, as the article states, we are no longer other. Yet, there is more.
[Bella's intro: In this first of a 2-part post, guest blogger Gabriela Denise Frank offers an enlightening, stereotype-smashing view of what it means to live alone. In this first part, she takes on the "othering" of people who do not fit into traditional categories, such as married mom. In the second, she offers suggestions for transcending the boxes popular culture tries to trap us in. Lots of travel and bold living is involved. I first came across Gabriela's insightful writing at her blog. Thanks, Gabriela, for sharing your smart perspective with us.]
In my last post, I described the three revolutions that have made our 21st century interpersonal worlds so powerful, so fraught, and so distinctive. As explained by Networked authors Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman, the three are the Social Network Revolution, the Internet Revolution, and the Mobile Revolution. Here I will share the authors’ tips for not just surviving in our new world, but thriving.
When I was growing up, there was a big telephone stuck to the kitchen wall. I used it occasionally, as did everyone else in the family, but mostly, our contacts with other people took place in person. When I had a question about something relevant to my schoolwork, I looked at my textbooks or the encyclopedias at home; if neither of those had the answer, then I made a trip to the library.
Three revolutions have upended all that and totally transformed our lives. Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman, two of the most accomplished and trustworthy scholars on these matters, explain what’s happened in Networked: The New Social Operating System. The “triple revolution” they describe has these three components:
I like to stay in touch with the latest news from groups that work for social justice. Color of Change is one such group. They do good work and I usually look forward to receiving their emails. However, shortly after that horrible incident in which a Black man was choked by police officers until he died, the email I received had this subject line:
“Black husband and father choked to death by NYPD officers”
We don’t need to wonder whether single people are stereotyped. Years ago, my colleagues and I conducted a series of studies to see how people view single people. The results documented widespread singlism – people viewed singles more harshly than married people in many ways (for example, as less mature, more self-centered, more envious, and less well-adjusted). Both men and women perceived single people in more negative ways than they viewed married people. People who were in romantic relationships were critical of single people, but so were people who were not in such relationships.