For the second time in just a few months, a reporter asked me if there are scientifically-documented ways in which single people are not just doing as well as married people, but better. It was time for me to start my list, and so far, I came up with 23 ways in which single people are doing better than married people.
What do these results tell us about single life and married life and the differences between them?
Ever since my first book, Singled Out, I’ve been looking at beliefs about single people and trying to figure out if they are accurate perceptions or misleading myths. Just about all of the popular perceptions of single people are mythical (here, here, and here). (Exceptions are the ones regarding financial matters. Single people really are more financially strapped than married people, largely because of singlism, including the laws and practices that discriminate against them.)
When the myths come tumbling down, so too should be the belief structures built up around those beliefs. For example, how often have you heard that marriage is good for men’s health because wives feed their husbands the fruits and vegetables they would never eat as bachelors, and nag them to go to the doctor and maintain healthy habits? Those kinds of musings even appear in scientific journals. The thing is, though, if there is any direct evidence for any of this, I don’t know of it (and I’ve been studying these things for many years).
What’s more, there are findings that are inconsistent with the nagging-wife/healthy-husband argument, as I detailed in my 23 ways article. For example, single people exercise more than married people, people generally get fatter after they get married, and men who have always been single are especially unlikely to develop heart disease. How can this be if wives are keeping their husbands’ noses to the healthy-habits grindstone?
I’m also still struck by a study I first discussed here at Single-at-Heart about people in the military who have been wounded since 9/11. It showed that the wounded warriors who had always been single were emotionally and physically healthier than married or divorced ones. They were also least likely to have depression or symptoms of PTSD, least likely to be obese, and most likely to bounce back successfully from bad things that happen to them, such as illness or injury. We are so used to thinking that married people are the ones who “have someone” to lean on and be their rock and support them through difficulties. How do we square that warm and fuzzy view of married life with the findings showing that it is the single warriors who are most resilient?
Check out some of the other 23 ways single people do better than married people. The shatter the myths that single people are isolated and alone, that they are selfish and self-centered, and that they are materialistic, just to name a few.
Scientific findings are averages across all of the people who participated in the research, and so of course there are always exceptions. Not all single people fit the positive descriptions suggested by the research, and not all married people fit the less positive ones. On average, though, the weight of the evidence tells us something significant: We need to rethink our beliefs about single people and single life, and married people and married life. Maybe just about everything we think we know is wrong.
Man eating salad image available from Shutterstock.