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Singles/Never Married Persons

Psychosocial Characteristics Of The Never Married

The never married are a diverse and complex group. They differ by sexual orientation, age, health status, ethnicity, and living arrangements, and are as varied as married persons by social class background, education, occupation, and income level. The life satisfaction of the never married, in general, is similar to the married and better than for other unmarried groups, particularly the divorced. The health status of single men tends to be poorer than for married men, while never married women tend to enjoy better health than other women. In later life, the never married are more likely to face economic insecurity (particularly older women) and weaker social support networks (particularly older men) than are their married counterparts. Marcia Bedard (1992) and others contend that the happiness of single people is related to meeting their social and economic needs, not to the issue of being single.

The literature finds other gender differences in how singlehood is experienced, and these differences tend to be complicated by age. Although current older single women tend to be significantly disadvantaged in economic terms, younger and middle-aged single women tend to have high general ability scores, are highly educated, and have high-status occupations. The situation for single men tends to be different. Many men who remain unmarried are often "those at the very bottom of the social scale, with no women available who are sufficiently low in status" (Unger and Crawford 1992, p. 386).

Never married women tend to manage their lives better than do single men. Studies suggest that single men are more depressed, report lower levels of well-being and life satisfaction and poorer health, and are more likely to commit suicide than single women. It may be that single women's greater ability to maintain close and supportive ties over their lifetime with family members, particularly siblings, and with friends, contributes to their greater overall well-being.

In general, however, never married people report satisfaction in terms of friendships, general health, standard of living, and finances. They are more likely to live with others, such as siblings or other relatives, than are the widowed or divorced, and less likely to be lonely when compared to the other unmarried groups. Although the social networks of the never married tend to be smaller than for the married, the majority of never married individuals are socially active, with friends, neighbors, and relatives, as well as dating partners. Family ties are often central in the lives of the never married, particularly never married women, whose roles include caring for parents, being a lifelong companion to siblings, and serving as a surrogate mother to siblings' children (Allen and Pickett 1987). Friendship ties also take on great significance in the lives of many never married adults, particularly women, across their life course (Campbell, Connidis, and Davies 1999).

Nevertheless, people who remain single throughout their lives still face difficulties. The availability of a willing sexual partner, particularly in later life, is more likely to be a problem for the unmarried than for married couples. Further, for those who live alone, the financial costs tend to be greater than for those who share a household. Also, because most informal support is provided by a spouse and/or adult children, the never married in later life are more likely than the married to have to rely on formal support. When caregiving needs increase, never married older women in particular have a greater likelihood of requiring placement in a long-term care facility than older married women or those with children.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesSingles/Never Married Persons - Social And Historical Context Of Singlehood, Psychosocial Characteristics Of The Never Married, Culture, Ethnicity, And The Never Married