Between 5% and 10% of American women never marry, but the percentage is higher for black than for white women (Saluter, 1996). Among middle-aged and older adults who never marry are priests, nuns, and others who have chosen lifestyles that preclude marriage. Most never-marrieds do not consciously intend to make their single status permanent, but for one reason or another, they have never "tied the knot." Many prefer the single life, whereas others have real or imagined handicaps that contribute to an inability to attract a mate (Corby & Zarit, 1983).
In former times, the traditional role of woman as wife and homemaker led to a great deal of social pressure on unmarried women in their late twenties. Friends and family were preoccupied with the single status of a woman and constantly concerned themselves with finding a suitable mate for her. However, social attitudes have changed markedly during this century, and now many men and women feel comfortable waiting until their thirties to marry, or they decide not to marry at all. These individuals are much less likely to experience the social censure and alienation to which their nonmar-ried predecessors were subjected in previous times.
Certain psychologists and psychiatrists, viewing heterosexual union as a sine qua non of mental health and happiness, have considered chronic bachelors and spinsters as self-centered, neurotic, and often sexually deviant individuals who live lonely, dispirited lives. Although some research studies have found lifelong singles to be lonelier than marrieds, most singles appear to be happy, socially adjusted individuals who are satisfied with their lifestyles and interact frequently with their families, friends, and coworkers (Cargan & Melko, 1982; Essex &Nam, 1987; Rubinstein, 1987). Many women who have remained single are professional careerists who value their personal freedom and economic and social independence more than the emotional, sexual, and financial security of marriage. Such women may be highly educated, but a substantial percentage of those who remain single have a less than average amount of formal education (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992).
Never-marrieds do not fit a particular personality stereotype. In a study of unmarried men, Rubinstein (1987) identified three personality types:
(1) socially active men who were quite sophisticated and had many friends;
(2) social isolates who spent much of their time alone but reached out for company when they wanted it; (3) outsiders who were truly isolated from other people.
Of course, not all singles live alone; many live with relatives or friends. In addition, most singles are not sexually frustrated creatures who have no outlet for their erotic impulses. Some are "swinging singles" who opt for temporary heterosexual unions, some are cohabitants, and some are homosexuals.
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