Monday, 27 September 2010 15:01
Have you heard that single people are miserable and lonely and die alone in their empty apartments where they are eaten by their cats? That’s what I heard, too. So I set out to discover the truth of these matters. Guess what? It is not just the cat thing that’s a myth. All of those insulting claims about the lives of single people are wrong, wrong, wrong! Here’s a rundown of the myths I found while looking at the reality of being unattached today.
Myth #1: Singles are less happy than married people
Boo-hoo, poor you! That’s what friends and family sometimes think of people who are single. They are so wrong! First, most single people are not miserable — not even close. On the average, single people are always on the happy end of the scale; that’s true in every study I know of. Second, getting married hardly changes someone’s happiness at all. Some married people experience a tiny blip in happiness around the time of the wedding. (On an 11-point scale, they are about one-quarter of one point happier.) But that is just a honeymoon effect. They soon go back to being as happy or as unhappy as they were when they were single. Furthermore, only some married people enjoy the honeymoon effect. People who marry and later divorce actually start getting a bit less happy — not more happy — as their wedding day approaches.
Myth #2: Single people favor solitude
Sometimes people say that single people are “alone,” that they “don’t have anyone.” But that’s just a myth. Research shows that single people often have many people in their lives who are important to them. Often, they have a whole network of friends and relatives, and they stay connected with them for decades. After all, they have the time to forge many diverse relationships, which married sorts often don’t.
Myth #3: Elderly women live in isolation
Older women, in particular, are often painted as isolated spinsters, but in one study of 50 women who had always been single, 49 of them had close friends and usually they were in touch with those friends every single day. Sixteen of their friendships had lasted more than 40 years.
Myth #4: Single people don’t live as long as married folks
A serious, intellectual magazine recently printed a story with this headline: “Marry or die.” Seriously. Even the most prestigious publications can get their headlines all wrong when it comes to stories about people who are single. That magazine article ignored the longest-running study of longevity on record. That study started in 1921, with more than 1,000 11-year-olds. Scientists have kept track of these people for as long as they lived. The people who lived the longest were those who stayed single and those who married and stayed married. People who divorced, or who divorced and remarried, had shorter lives. It was consistency, not marriage, that mattered, and the results were the same for men and women.
Myth #5: Single people are self-centered
Married people are supposedly the ones who reach out to other people and keep families and neighborhoods connected. That’s the story we hear, but it is not what’s really true. National surveys show that single people are more likely to visit, support, contact, and advise their siblings and parents than married or even previously married people. Singles are also more likely to encourage, help, and socialize with their neighbors and friends.
Myth #6: The children of single parents are destined to live haplessly
These days, forecasts of doom and gloom are often aimed at children who are raised by single parents. To hear the commentators talk about it, you would think that only children raised by married biological parents have a decent shot at a good, healthy, successful life. In my research, though, I was struck by just how overstated those claims actually are. One example comes from the results of a National Drug Abuse Survey, a study of substance abuse among 12- to 17-year-olds. The children of single mothers had low rates of abuse — under 6 percent. And those rates were just 1.2 percent higher than the rates of the children living with married biological parents. Furthermore, two-parent married households did not always have kids with the lowest rates of substance abuse. Teens living with a father and stepmother, for example, had higher rates of substance abuse than teens raised by single mothers.
Myth #7: Single people are not as healthy as people who get married
Think singletons live an unhealthy life of vice, partying up a storm and eating junk food rather than healthy home-cooked meals? That’s not what the research says. Typically, people who have always been single are very similar in their health to people who are currently married. There is, though, one exception where single people are actually healthier than attached types: married people are more overweight! As for divorce, some research actually shows that people become healthier after they divorce than they were when they were married.
Myth #8: Single people waste money on frivolous things for themselves
So you think that singletons splurge and marrieds conserve? If so, then I have just one question for you: Do you know how much weddings cost? Even after the big splash, maybe you thought married folks save up, spend conservatively, and are occasionally called upon to support the more spendthrift single drifters in their clan who racked up credit card debt on fancy shopping sprees and vacations...not so. Coupled-up sorts are no more generous than single people when it comes to giving financial help to family members. As for friends, it is the single people who are there for them. In fact, one study showed that men were much more financially generous to their friends when they were single than they were after they married. When married men divorced, they reverted to their more giving selves. If they remarried, then they went back to being less generous to their friends.
(Bella DePaulo is a social psychologist, visiting professor at UC Berkeley and the author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, And Ignored and Still Live Happily Ever After.)
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