The Power of Single People: 8 Ways Businesses Are Finally Recognizing It

By Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

shutterstock_134465504What is perhaps the best known marketing and communications company, JWT (previously J. Walter Thompson), just published a report about family that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago.

Among the categories of family in the report were:

  • Kids optional
  • Solo living
  • Pets as family
  • Friends as family
  • Same-sex families

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The Best of Single Life

By Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

single_lifeAs 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?

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The State of Singles in the U.S., for a Publication Reporting on Singles Around the World

By Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

shutterstock_145434979In 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 single people. Married people, in contrast, can leave their benefits to each other. There is also discrimination in housing and in health care benefits.

The 1,000+ laws favoring officially married people provided one of the important motivations for the movement for same-sex marriage. The advocates of same-sex marriage have had many victories. However, even when gays and lesbians are allowed to marry, single people of all sexual orientations are still left out. They get none of the special benefits or protections.

The widespread discrimination against single people could, in theory, provide a powerful incentive for single people to organize and work for equal treatment and social justice. However, that has not occurred. There have been singles advocacy groups, such as the American Association for Single People (which later became Unmarried America) in the past, and the Alternatives to Marriage Project, which is now called Unmarried Equality. However, membership in these organizations has always been just a very small fraction of the total number of single people in the nation.

American organizations celebrating traditional marriage as well as groups advocating for same-sex marriage are often well-funded. The singles-rights organizations, however, have always struggled financially.

Marital status makes a big difference in American elections. Married people – especially married men – more often vote for Republicans (conservatives). Single people – especially single women – more often vote for Democrats (liberals). In both 2008 and 2012, single women voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in the Presidential elections.

Despite the importance of single people to political outcomes, politicians still pay far more attention to married people and families and the issues that affect them. In a favorite phrase, candidates promise to “fight for working families.” I don’t think any major national candidate has ever promised to fight for single people. Occasionally, politicians acknowledge the struggles of single mothers, but the lives of single people with no children are largely ignored.

Perhaps because they are so often ignored, single people in the U.S. do not vote as often as married people do. For example, in the 2012 presidential election, only 39 percent of all voters were unmarried, even though unmarried people comprised 44 percent of the adult population. Single people are even less likely to vote in non-Presidential elections.

Are Single Americans Happy, Healthy, and Socially Connected?

Americans’ perceptions of single people are not as negative as they were in the past, but they still believe some of the stereotypes. For example, they sometimes think that single people are unhappy, unhealthy, and isolated, and they also believe that people who get married become happier, healthier, and more connected to other people.

Those stereotypes are wrong. Most American single people are happy and healthy, and getting married typically does not result in lasting improvements in happiness or health. (Claims to the contrary are based on flawed studies, or incorrect understandings of the results.) In some important ways, single people are even more connected to other people than married people are. For example, single people are more likely to visit and support their parents and siblings than married people are. Singles are also more likely to socialize with, encourage, and help their friends and neighbors. Once Americans get married, they have less contact with their parents and their friends than they did when they were single.

Note: If you can read Dutch, read the work of Lenie de Zwaan. I’ve heard she has written very insightfully about single people and social ties, but sadly for me, I don’t understand Dutch. Also, if any of the other contributions to the 100th issue of Individual and Society are translated into English, I will share them here after the issue is published, assuming I can get permission to do so. Also, if  you are someone who comments here fairly often, I may want to mention you, in a forthcoming collection, by the name you comment under; read more here.

Man and woman with wine image available from Shutterstock.



Single in Poland: Meaningful Work, and Connections to Family and Friends

By Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

shutterstock_157606439In 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.

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Why Are You Single? International Edition

By Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

81nBFoHrKTLBy 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.)

  1. Happy singles: These are single people who “fully accept their lifestyle.” They “do not feel the need to be in a relationship.” In fact, they say that they are happy not to be in a serious romantic relationship. They are probably the people I would call single at heart.
  2. Accustomed singles: They are similar in many ways to the happy singles, but instead of saying that they are happy with their single lives, they say, “I’m used to being single.” They don’t mean that in any resigned or negative sense. As Czernecka explains, “They have been alone for a while and treat it as their natural state – they do not want to destroy the harmony of their life, or give up their rituals and everyday pleasures for a partner. All emotional needs, the sense of being accepted and of help in everyday life are provided by their family and friends, which is why they say that they ‘do not need anyone else.’”
  3. Hurt singles: They have had bad experiences with romantic relationships in the past and do not want to be hurt again. (The Carly Simon lyrics, “haven’t got time for the pain,” sound relevant here.)
  4. All-or-nothing singles: They only want to be with a romantic partner if they can find someone great. They are not going to be in a romantic relationship just to be in a romantic relationship.
  5. Romantics: These people are a lot like the all-or-nothings, only with a much more romantic bent. They seem to believe in the fairy tales and the myths. They are sure that their “soul mate” is out there somewhere. Some have broken off decent relationships because their partner did not make them swoon the way they expect to when they finally find their true Princess or Prince Charming.

It is an interesting typology because it acknowledges the many ways that single people think about their single lives. The author does not just assume that all single people want to become unsingle and are trying to figure out what problems they have that might need to be fixed. It would be useful to see this typology tested with bigger and more representative samples.

There is lots more to Julita Czernecka’s book and what she has to say about single people in Poland. I’ll probably write more in another post or two.



Security Online: Do You Have to Be a Married Parent to Qualify?

By Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

shutterstock_176244674As we all do more and more of our banking and shopping and business online, a particular kind of question is becoming ubiquitous – the security question. These are questions presumably written so as to be relevant to the vast majority of the people who will be answering them. That makes them particularly interesting windows into the assumptions that are made about adult life.

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Is This a First for Humans? People Eat Alone More Often Than with Others

By Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

What could be more sociable than the act of sharing a meal or a drink?

For years, I’ve been researching and writing about one particular variety of eating alone – dining alone in restaurants. I have found that people are often very self-conscious about dining solo. They think other people are thinking mean and dismissive things about them when they do. Those fears, it turns out, are overblown. Other people are just as likely to be catty about the couple they see at the next table.

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Part 2 of ‘Othering’ People Who Are Single: Guest Post by Gabriela Denise Frank

By Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

gabriela_frank_headshot[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.

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Are You ‘Other’ If You Are Not a Mother? Part 1. Guest Post by Gabriela Denise Frank

By Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

gabriela_frank_headshot[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.]

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How to Succeed in Our Networked World: 10 Tips from the Ones Who Wrote the Book

By Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

shutterstock_155730194In 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.

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