No group has taken more flack—or been more closely analyzed—when it comes to marital status than black women. A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that marriage rates were falling for all ethnic and cultural groups, but falling fastest for black women. While marriage seems like a sometimes elusive gold standard for the perfect life, new research presented at the124th meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA), held in July, shows that there are many wonderful benefits to being single that are seldom discussed because our culture is so focused on encouraging people to tie the knot.
Whether you are divorced and done with all that, or still waiting for him to put a ring on it, there is good news about going solo, reports Bella DePaulo, PhD, a scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She reports that our ongoing concerns about loneliness obscure more positive and realistic portraits of single people.
The narrative about single people, Depaulo told her APA audience is that they are “sad and lonely. If only they would get married, that would make them live longer, healthier, and more socially connected lives. I will challenge every element of the conventional wisdom. I will argue that the story that has been told is more ideology than science.”
“It is time for a more accurate portrayal of single people and single life—one that recognizes the real strengths and resilience of people who are single and what makes their lives so meaningful,” DePaulo said.
To begin with, DePaulo explains, there’s a lack of research on single people. When the single life is studied, it’s most often used just as a basis for comparison for married life. After reviewing 814 studies, however, DePaulo found some very interesting details about people who were unmarried.
She reports that single people “have a heightened sense of self-determination and they are more likely to experience a sense of continued growth and development as a person.”
One of the other studies she reviewed found that people who never married were very self-sufficient. In fact, the higher their degree of self-sufficiency, the less likely they were to experience negative emotions. Surprisingly, the exact opposite was true for married people, suggesting that being self-sufficient in a couple was a less desirable state.
Other research reviewed by DePaulo shows that single people also value meaningful work more than married people do.
In addition, single people are more connected to parents, siblings, friends, neighbors and coworkers than married people are, she reports, because when people marry, they become more insular.
Depaulo also said that given the large number of federal benefits and protections—more than 1,000—many of them financial, that are given to married people, you would expect them to be the psychologically healthier, happier group, but that’s not the case. “Considering all of the financial and cultural advantages people get just because they are married, it becomes even more striking that single people are doing as well as they are,” DePaulo told the APA.
If single people suffer at all, DePaulo says, it may be because of society’s obsessive focus on rewarding people for being married, while penalizing people for being single. “Married people are advantaged by the relentless celebration of marriage and coupling and weddings that I call matrimania,” she says. “Single people, in contrast, are targets of singlism—the stereotyping, stigmatizing, marginalizing, and discrimination against people who are single.”
Even though there are clear benefits to staying single (especially for women), DePaulo does not suggest that one choice is better than the other, she says what’s most important is that “more than ever before, Americans can pursue the ways of living that work best for them. There is no one blueprint for the good life.”