During difficult economic times, many people are stressed about money, but single people are likely to be especially so. For well over a decade, I’ve been trying to promote consciousness-raising about single people and their lives. It is a challenge, trying to nudge a matrimaniacal society into recognizing that not everyone is part of a couple or even wants to be. But as the number of single people continues to grow, closing in on half of all of the adult population, that will change.
One way it changes is when writers and pundits and opinion-leaders have single people in their lives who are so important to them and so close to them that they just can’t ignore their issues anymore. So it was over at Forbes, when Nancy Anderson, in the second paragraph of her article, acknowledged that all of her adult sons were single.
Anderson’s article, “3 Things That Make Singles Vulnerable – And How To Beat Them,” is a good faith effort to take the lessons she thinks her sons should learn about their finances and share them with other single people. There is less condescension and singlism in the article than in many other pieces of published advice offered to single people. Anderson tries to point out the great opportunities of single life as well as the challenges. I think her answers are sometimes wrong or incomplete, but I appreciate the effort.
Before I get into my critique, though, perhaps you want to know what Anderson considers singles’ three greatest financial vulnerabilities. They are the need for emergency savings (because when a single person loses a job, “There is no back up with a second salary, or the ability for a stay-at-home spouse or partner to jump in to contribute financially in an emergency”), the need for coverage for disability or illness, and the need to fund retirement. Those are all important issues, but if you want a more complete discussion, click here.
Anderson’s article opens with a pair of stereotypes: “Single people possess some things that money can’t buy: Freedom of mobility and fewer family obligations.” When Anderson gets older and needs help, she will likely discover what scientific research has documented – it is her single offspring who are more likely than her married ones to step in to provide the care and assistance that she cannot do without. It is not just their parents who single people help disproportionately; when it comes to the kinds of intensive care that goes on for months at a time (at least), again singles are there for the people who need that care more often than married people are.
The belief that single people have “freedom of mobility” seems to follow from the stereotype of single people as rootless and unconnected. Employers sometimes believe that, too, and expect their single workers to pack up and move to a new location more readily than married workers will. But that ignores the roots that single people do put down – the friends they make (and who companies are not about to move along with their employees the way they sometimes pay for a spouse to move), the relatives who may live nearby, the attachments they form to their communities and locations, and the connections they may feel to their particular workplace and the people in it.
The more fundamental shortcoming of the Forbes story is one that Rachel Buddeberg noted in an email discussion I had with her about the article: All of Anderson’s proposed solutions are individual, placing the burden solely on single people to deal with the hand they are dealt. But the deck is rigged – single people are systematically left out of benefits and protections (including many financial ones) that are accorded automatically to people who are married. The more powerful solution is structural, in the form of new policies and social change. Financial vulnerability is not just about money – it is also about fairness.
[Note. Thanks to Christina at Onely for the heads-up about the Forbes article.]
Money image available from Shutterstock.