For 70+ years, studies have supposedly shown that marrying improves people’s wellness. We have believed that marriage makes people healthier and happier. If only we could find our soulmate, we would live happily ever after.
Let’s examine our assumptions. Do you believe that married or coupled people are happier and healthier than single people? Do you believe that single people are generally lonely, and lonelier than married or coupled people? Among these four groups – married people, people who cohabitate, single people who are dating, or single people who are not dating – who do you believe are the most likely to be depressed? Most people expect solo single people to be the most depressed, stressed, and loneliest. Guess what? Studies show there is little difference between these groups.
Author, professor, and researcher, Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is an expert in single people. Dr. DePaulo demonstrates that we are wrong about the benefits of marriage. People who marry do not become healthier than when they were single and may even become a shade less healthy. They do not become lastingly happier, either.
Generally, people do not get happier after they get married. Some people may get a little happier around the time of the wedding, then they go back to feeling as happy or as unhappy as they were when they were single. Not everyone has a boost of happiness around the time of the marriage. They were also no happier and no healthier, and their self-esteem was no higher.
In fact, one significant difference between couples and singles is that couples become more insular with pairing. Couples don’t develop their social network in the same way that single people do. Single people have many people they can rely on. DePaulo says, “They are probably doing more to maintain their connections with people such as friends, parents, siblings, and neighbors than married or cohabiting people are. If they can rely on their friends and family, that will probably matter more to their psychological health than whether they have a spouse or romantic partner.” And people with partners can feel terribly lonely.
What we believe about single life and what single people actually experience can be quite different. Studies show that over time, single life gets better and better. As we age, satisfaction with single life gets better. Single people have opportunities for growth and autonomy that coupled people don’t have. Single people without children have more time and income to pursue interests.
By the way, women like being single more than men do. They enjoy spending time alone more than men do. They are more satisfied with their friendships. They spend more time pursuing their interests and hobbies. If they are heterosexuals who were previously married or living with a man, they are especially happy not to be doing more than their fair share of the household chores or the work of caring for others.
A word of warning for people who choose to be single, or for whom pairing does not happen, is to protect yourself financially. Lifelong single people are at much greater risk for financial insecurity in later life than married people. Economic discrimination against single people is written into many federal laws that benefit and protect only people who are legally married.
Single people are mostly doing fine, but other people just don’t believe them. I believe it is time that we validate singlehood. Stop the stigma against single people.
For more information on this topic go to Bella DePaulo’s website at http://www.belladepaulo.com/ or watch her Tedx Talk, “What no one ever told you about people who are single”. Fascinating.