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The Husband Assumption

phoneWhen I get phone calls from strangers, especially those particularly annoying ones from marketers who never should have called my number in the first place, I am often addressed as “Mrs. DePaulo.” I never let it slide. I always correct the caller, telling the person that I am not a “Mrs.” Sometimes I don’t stop there. I add that I’m single and I always have been and always will be and I like it that way.

These are people who want to sell me something. Do they really think that, in a country in which more than 100 million adults are not married, it makes sense to automatically address everyone as if they were married? Do they not realize that they are going to be wrong in their guesses close to half the time? Do they think that it is flattering to be addressed as “Mrs.”? Or, in perhaps the worst possible explanation, do they not even think about it at all? Maybe the assumption that all adults are married is made so routinely that marketers are writing scripts like these without ever even considering the possibility that they are inappropriate and offensive.

This is “the husband assumption,” or, more broadly, “the marriage assumption.” If you pay attention, you will start noticing it in all sorts of places, spouted by all sorts of people. Here are just a few examples from my collection.

#1 A show called “The Cycle” had a guest author discussing his intensive exercise programs. One of the program’s hosts asked the author for tips about how to start exercising. The guest replied that anyone can walk a mile, and that’s how you should start out. Just have your husband or wife drop you off a mile away from your house, he suggested, and then you can walk home.

#2 An article about Christopher Hitchens as he was approaching the end of his life noted that he was “stricken by the likelihood that he won’t live to see his three children married.” This is a particularly common example. It used to be that just about all parents assumed that all of their kids would be straight. It still seems to be the case that just about all parents assume their kids will marry (and will want to marry).

#3 Have you noticed the themes of the security questions you are so often asked to answer online? One of the most popular topics is marriage. Where did you meet your spouse, they want to know. Where did you go for your honeymoon? Where was your spouse born? All of these questions and more assume that you have a spouse.

#4 An article with travel tips suggests an Amtrak vacation: “Explore America on any of five escorted rail journeys and save up to $600 a couple.”

A close cousin to the marriage assumption is the family assumption. Disappointingly, even the most progressive leaders make this assumption routinely.

#5 Sherrod Brown sent me an email asking me to stand with him “and Ohio’s working families.” That “working families” phrase is a favorite among politicians across the ideological spectrum, and it gets me every time. Employers don’t hire families – infants in particular are not that great as workers – they hire individual adults. Is Sherrod Brown assuming that everyone is embedded in a “working family” or is he saying that if I am a single person with no kids, he is not going to stand with me?

#6 Barbara Boxer sent me an email asking for my support of a bill that would “protect our families by keeping vehicles under safety recall off our roads.” Does she really mean to imply that she is uninterested in protecting me, as an individual single person, from getting killed in an unsafe vehicle?

Readers, do you have some examples?

Angry woman image available from Shutterstock.

The Husband Assumption

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2014). The Husband Assumption. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 26, 2019, from


Last updated: 16 Jun 2014
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