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Single Men and Single Women: The Double Standard

Ask if there is a double standard for single men compared to single women and the first thing many people come up with is the terminology. Single men are bachelors. Not bad. Sounds like they are free; they can live expansive lives. Single women are spinsters, or at one point, “old maids” (among many other derogatory terms). True, many have tried to reclaim the term spinster, the way the LGBTQ+ community rebranded “queer,” but it is still a work in progress.

In an essay at Medium, Annie Hsia described another example:

We hold unmarried men and women to different standards. Faced with societal pressure to be coupled up, I told my friends I wanted to be George Clooney: if I found someone, great, but I was not going to center my life around finding a mate. After Clooney divorced his first wife in 1993, he was single for 21 years until his second marriage at the age of 52. During those two decades, he was widely admired as an eligible bachelor with a successful acting career and interest in activism. Jennifer Aniston, who was single for ten years between her first and second marriages, also had a successful acting career and interest in philanthropy. But rather than focus on her professional accomplishments, the media obsessed about her weight, diet, lack of marriage, then possibly falling apart marriage, and whether she was pregnant or simply had a food baby from eating a large meal. Finally, in 2016, Aniston issued a response in the Huffington Post:

“This past month in particular has illuminated for me how much we define a woman’s value based on her marital and maternal status. The sheer amount of resources being spent right now by press trying to simply uncover whether or not I am pregnant (for the bajillionth time… but who’s counting) points to the perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful, or unhappy if they’re not married with children. In this last boring news cycle about my personal life there have been mass shootings, wildfires, major decisions by the Supreme Court, an upcoming election, and any number of more newsworthy issues that ‘journalists’ could dedicate their resources towards.

“Here’s where I come out on this topic: we are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child….We get to determine our own ‘happily ever after’ for ourselves.”

Annie Hsia’s long, thoughtful, and carefully researched essay drew from politics, literature, history, demography, and social science, and cited examples from around the world. But Hsia wasn’t just making cultural observations. She issued an important call-to-action, as captured in the title, “Until There Is Equality for Single People, There Will Not Be Gender Equality.”

Here is her conclusion:

“Until our society understands the important contributions of single people, and reevaluates more than 1,000 laws that discriminate against them, single women will not have a chance to truly stand on their own as equals in the community. Without equality for unmarried people, there will be no gender equality. I am not sure I will see this in my lifetime, but I hope it will take less than the 151 years projected by the World Economic Forum.”

Hsia’s argument complements my claim that “without unmarried equality, gender equality is not enough.” Here’s an excerpt:

“To achieve unmarried equality, single people need to be able to choose to be single, without stigma, shame, or second-guessing. In their everyday lives, they should, for example, be able to support themselves as single people, without needing to marry in order to survive financially. Single people need to have the same options to give and receive care as married people do. They should not be charged more for the same services, nor should they be expected to subsidize people who are coupled or married. No law should discriminate against people who are single. As long as singlism persists, there is no real equality.

“Gender equality for people who are single means that it should be equally possible for men and women to live full lives as single people, free of stereotyping, stigma, discrimination, or exclusion.”

Erasing the double standard for single men and single women would be a good thing. But as Christina Diane Campbell also argued, we need more.

Single Men and Single Women: The Double Standard

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. (2020). Single Men and Single Women: The Double Standard. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Jun 2020
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