In This Article Single People

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historical Perspectives
  • Early Contributions to Singles Studies
  • Cultural Contexts
  • Demographic Contexts
  • Living Arrangements of Single People
  • Singles Across the Life Course
  • Single Parenting, Divorce, and the Implications for Children
  • Solitude
  • Work and Education
  • Caring, Guiding, and Giving

Psychology Single People
by
Bella M. DePaulo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0055

Introduction

For decades the proportion of single people in populations around the globe (especially in Western nations) has been growing, but scholars have focused overwhelmingly on marriage and romantic relationships. That is starting to change. Psychologists have been finding that single people are targets of stereotyping and discrimination (singlism) and that singlism is less often recognized than other “isms.” The most extensive research on singles is part of the literature on marriage and compares important qualities such as health and happiness among people of different marital statuses. That research has been plagued with methodological problems. More sophisticated longitudinal studies are becoming more commonplace. Results often suggest that when people marry, they enjoy, at best, a honeymoon effect—for example, in life satisfaction; then they go back to feeling about as satisfied or dissatisfied as they did when they were single. Getting divorced typically undermines well-being, at least at first, and the negative implications of divorce are often much stronger than any positive implications of getting married. Cross-sectional studies often find little difference between people who are currently married and those who have always been single; the disadvantage—when there is one—seems most often to characterize those who marry and then divorce. How is it possible for so many single people to fare so well psychologically when they do not have a marriage partner? The study of the interpersonal life shows that friends, family, social networks, and personal communities have significant roles in the lives of many single people. In some ways, singles do more to maintain a diversity of interpersonal ties than married people do. Work, education, solitude, and caregiving are also important components of many single people’s lives. Research on particular subcategories of singles, such as emerging adults, midlife singles, and older singles, as well as singles with children and singles with no children, points to important ways in which single life differs across the life course and for singles with different roles and interests. The experience of single life is best understood in the cultural, demographic, and historical contexts; the variations and implications are substantial.

General Overviews

If the topic of this bibliography were marriage or married people, there would be a long list of scholarly overviews of the topic. The study of singles is fairly new, though, and many academic writings have focused exclusively on single women or on other subsets of single people, such as those who are divorced or widowed. It is possible to learn about singles indirectly by reading books and articles about marriage, especially those in which people of different marital and relationship statuses are compared. However, those approaches often offer a complex and nuanced view of marriage and married people, alongside a more superficial consideration of singles. For example, authors finding little or no difference between single and married people in their studies sometimes go on to examine subsets of married people (such as those who are especially happy in their marriages) and compare those subgroups to all single people (rather than a comparable group, such as those who are especially happy with their single status). One of the resources listed here, DePaulo 2006, provides a research-based overview of singles (men and women; divorced, widowed, and always single; single parents and singles who are not parents) in which the goal of understanding singles and single life is at the center of the endeavor. Myths about singles (e.g., that they are miserable, lonely, selfish, self-centered, and care more about getting partnered than anything else) are compared to the evidence, and most stereotypes are found to be exaggerated or wrong. The Living Single blog at Psychology Today includes timely reviews and critiques of the latest social scientific studies of singles and single life.

  • DePaulo, Bella. 2006. Singled out: How singles are stereotyped, stigmatized, and ignored and still live happily ever after. New York: St. Martin’s.

    E-mail Citation »

    Considers different definitions of single (legally single, socially single) as well as the contemporary cultural context in which marriage is glorified. Introduces the concepts of singlism and matrimania and reviews evidence of discrimination against singles in many domains. Dispels myths about singles. Explains problems that have plagued the study of marital status differences for decades and offers recommendations for future research.

  • Living Single blog at Psychology Today.

    E-mail Citation »

    This blog about single life is written by Bella DePaulo, with occasional contributions from scholars from disciplines such as religious studies, history, literature, and clinical psychology. DePaulo regularly reviews and critiques the most recent singles-relevant publications in the social sciences, with an emphasis on studies from psychology and sociology.

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