7400.201  Courtship, Marriage and the Family
  Topic 9 - The Single Option - Notes Only

Thirty years ago, the majority of Americans believed that there was something wrong with the person who opted for the single life. Even today, people tend to judge the single more severely. The proportion of Americans who are unmarried has risen steadily. The rise in the unmarried ranks has not been due merely to an increase in divorce. Greater numbers of both males and females are choosing to remain single for longer periods of time and, in some cases, for life. Even so, a higher proportion of singles existed in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century than at the beginning of the twenty first.  There is a tendency to view singlehood in negative terms. In accord with this negative perspective, there are a number of stereotypes and myths attached to being single, particularly to those never married or those divorced.

Seven myths about the never married are:

  1. They are still tied to their mothers’ apron strings;
  2. They are selfish;
  3. They are financially well-off;
  4. They are happier;
  5. There are more singles now than ever;
  6. Being and staying single is an acceptable way of life;
  7. Something is wrong with those who never marry.

Social Factors Influencing the Rise in the Number of Single Adults.

 People are waiting longer before marrying than ever before:
        - in 1960 the average age at 1st marriage was 23.9 for men and 19.9 for women.
        - by 1985 the average age at 1st marriage was 25.2 for men and 22.5 for women
        - today  the median age at first marriage is about 26.8 for men and 25.0 for women

The Divorce Rate rose throughout the 2nd half of the twentieth century from about a 20% lifetime probability of divorce in 1950 to the all-time high of over 50% lifetime probability in 1981-82. The divorce rate dropped in 1982-83 slightly where it has continued to stay - at about 50% probability (actually the rate is 22 divorces per 1000 married women). This same trend in divorce has occurred in Western Europe as well and isn't simply a U.S. problem. (from The death of "till death us do part": the transformation of pair bonding in the 20th century. Family Process, Summer, 2002, by W.M. Pinsof)

The "Marriage Squeeze" is a term that describes the number of marriable men for women in certain demographic groups.  Since the 1960s men and women have been increasing their educational, occupational and financial prospects. Since the mid-1980s men's long-standing domination in terms of socioeconomic status started to feel the effects of competition from women. The death of "till death us do part": the transformation of pair-bonding in the 20th century. According to ABC News, Women now comprise 57 percent of all college graduates in the United States. Among Hispanics, the gender gap is even wider, where only 40 percent of college graduates are male. Among blacks, two women earn bachelor's degrees for every man.  The end result may be that younger women are finding fewer men in their age group with similar education.  If American men are becoming less literate, not as ambitious, and if they find lower paying work than their female counterparts, the end result may be that younger women will find fewer and fewer men to marry in their age/income/education group.

Consequently, because of the marriage squeeze, the divorce rate, and other factors, such as less social pressure to marry before becoming sexually active, women may be seeking alternatives to marriage in greater numbers. Does this spell the end to marriage as an institution?  Not quite.  The alterations in the numbers are slight, magnified only by their aggregate nature. Young people still seek love relationships and want fairly conservative lifestyles that include marriage and family life.  The threats to the status quo - to a "traditional" life - are real enough.  Young people are realistic and know that their lives will also have to include prospects for change and adaptation.

Thus, after the Women's Movement began to enlighten both women and men on issues that were long overdue for discussion and remedy, and despite growing doubts about the (old) institution of marriage, social scientists were neither shocked, nor surprised that rather than disposing of the institution altogether, people began to change it to suit new times and new social demands.  What we are witnessing with these statistics amounts to no less than graduate social change as a response to conditions in the real world.

Why Do People Remain Single for Longer Periods of Their Life?
  1. Career Comes First - a social necessity. With employers requiring more education and higher skills prior to hiring, people are focusing on the training necessary to get their careers in order before starting families. This makes absolute sense.
  2. Change for Sex with Wide Variety of Partners - in 1950, if a factory job was waiting at the end of high school, an young man and woman could more easily manage to stretch their passions to marriage.   Today if we are to believe that "no sex prior to marriage" is realistic, then society would be asking too much from young people.  Men and women whose physical bodies completed puberty by age 17-19 would have to wait past high school, past college and on to their first job before thinking about sexual relationships.   In 1950 the wait was about a year. In 2004, the wait could be 5-7 years, depending on the number of times one changes majors.  Just not that realistic after all.
  3. Personal Freedom is a value that has only recently (since 1975 or so) become a dominant value in the minds of advancing generations.  This is likely less selfish than it seems - more likely a response to social conditions and demands.
Thus, there is both a voluntary and involuntary singlehood. Millions of Americans choose to be single, some for life and others following divorce or the death of a spouse. Millions of others prefer to marry but for various reasons have not or cannot.
  • An increasing number of males and females define marriage as an impediment to a career and opt to delay or forgo marriage in order to establish themselves in a career.
  • The ready availability of sex is a factor in remaining single: An attraction is the fact that sex with a variety of partners is a possibility.
  • Many single people find appealing the freedom to be spontaneous, to travel, to pursue interests, and to change careers without having to worry about the consequences of those actions for a family. Men seem more concerned than women about retaining their personal freedom.
  • Another reason for remaining single is the desire for personal growth. The never- married place a high value on such things as education, competence, economic success, self improvement, learning new things, and mastering fresh challenges.
  • Social circumstances affect the likelihood of people remaining single. A number of social circumstances affect the chances of getting married, including wars, depressions, and changing sex ratios that affect the likelihood of marriage. When the number of males per one hundred females or the number of females per one hundred males gets low, there is a “marriage squeeze.” The marriage squeeze in the United States is particularly severe for black women.
  • Family background is another factor involved with remaining single; coming from a home where there has been discord or a disruption may make an individual hesitant to repeat the same kind of mistake.
Who are the Singles?
  1. Never Married Singles - Youngest Group 25 million men 20 million women
  2. Separated & Divorced - The Midlife Group. 18 million total
  3. Widowed Singles - The Oldest Group. women outnumber men 5 to 1 11.2 million women 2.1 million men. 3
It is important to note that women who remain single and are college educated have:
  1. Higher IQs
  2. More Education
  3. More Prestigious Occupations
  4. Higher Incomes
  5. Better Mental Health / Well Being
                    These are women actively choosing singlehood over marriage.

Stereotyping Single Adults: Men and Women who remain single are often thought of as suspect and selfish. In truth they are, financially better off, happier, and have fewer responsibilities.  A number of characteristics such as personality traits and personal attitudes can realistically contribute to whether one will remain single. Some people, for various reasons, have a fear of making a commitment to someone else. Another common reason is that they simply haven’t found the right person. And, although they represent a minority of those who are single, some people simply prefer the single life.  Single life-styles are diverse.

  • To be single is not necessarily to live alone. In 2000 only 8.9 percent of men and 6.6 percent of women in the eighteen to thirty-four year age group lived alone. By comparison, among those sixty-five years and older, 17 percent of the men and 39.6 percent of the women lived alone. The choice of living arrangement has obvious effects on other aspects of life-style. For financial reasons or personal needs or both, most singles prefer to live with someone.
  • A number of common patterns of sexual behavior among single young adults have been identified: The experimenter seeks to experience the full variety of sexual behavior with as many partners as possible. The seeker engages in sexual intercourse in order to find an ideal life partner. The traditionalist believes in sexual intercourse only in serious relationships. In actuality, experimenters are a minority of singles, and they probably won’t find the sexual satisfaction they desire, because such satisfaction is associated with being committed.
  • Without family responsibilities, singles have more opportunities for leisure activities.
  • Comparisons of singles and marrieds on family relations reveal that the marrieds are much more likely to have warm and stable relationships with their parents.
  • Retirement tends not to pose a crisis for the never-married. The majority of elderly singles are socially active. Older singles also continue to be involved in sexual relationships, including dating and sex.
  • Singles engage in numerous and diverse activities, but involvement in activities does not mean that an individual is no longer lonely and that his or her intimacy needs are being met. Although most singles are not lonely, your chances of being lonely are much greater if you are single than if you are married. 
People in meaningful intimate relationships are healthier than those who lack such relationships. Married people also have lower rates of emotional problems. Singles tend to suffer more from such things as depression and various other mental disorders. While the married are healthier than the unmarried, single women are much healthier than single men. In fact, single men are the unhealthiest of all groups. Men benefit, in terms of health, more from marriage than do women. Married men have the best health of all.

Singles are at a disadvantage in some of the things we highly value.
While our needs for intimacy differ, all of us require some intimate relationships.
  •  Singles may fulfill some of their intimacy needs by living with their parents, friends, or acquaintances or by cohabiting. Those who live alone have a greater challenge. By establishing a number of relationships, singles in effect may create their own families. A network family is a support group of non-kin. Friends are particularly important for singles.
  • One thing the network family does not provide is the fulfillment of one’s sexual needs. Singles have sex less often than marrieds and report less sexual satisfaction than marrieds. Sexual intimacy does not necessarily involve sexual intercourse.
  • Clearly, some people regard children as an important part of their fulfillment. Increasing numbers of single women are having children, however, those who do not have children appear to adapt well in the long- run.
The pursuit of happiness is one of the fundamental rights of all Americans and singles are involved in this pursuit. When singles are asked about the factors that go into their life satisfaction, their answers are similar to those of other Americans. Some singles, whether never-married, divorced, or widowed, prefer their life-style and find it satisfying. Yet singles are less likely than the married to perceive themselves as having happy, exciting lives. It may be that the differences are accounted for by those who are involuntarily single and are therefore less satisfied with their status, but we have no research to answer the question of whether the involuntary differ from the voluntary singles.

Singlehood as a Stage and As a Life Style

Singlehood as a Stage of Development - Singlehood and possibly cohabitation are the precursors to marriage, since 95% of all Americans will marry at sometime during their lives.  A Typology of Singlehood (below) shows that the concept is more complex than one might think.  Using the two-by-two table device, and by thinking in terms of voluntary and involuntary singles and temporarily and permanently single people, we arrive at four different types of singles.

Therefore, a voluntarily, temporarily single person could be someone who is choosing singlehood for the present time because of other matters deemed more important, but who is not opposed to marriage for themselves at some time in the future.  The other categories are equally logical.


IV. Cohabitation: Living Together
There are several ways of viewing cohabitation. As a Replacement of traditional courtship, a couple find that living together accomplishes goals for them that living apart while dating or engaged does not.  As a trial marriage, a couple might want to try the idea of living as a couple before actually being wed. Anthropologist Margaret Mead offered this idea as an improvement on the institution of marriage (she also thought there should be at least two marriages - one for having and rearing children, then another for purposes of retiring). As an alternative to marriage, cohabitation becomes the most radical departure from traditional courtship-engagement-marriage.

Cohabitation does seem to lead to marriage, that is, cohabitants are just as likely to marry SOMEONE (not necessarily the one with whom they cohabit), as are people who do not live together.  There is little to suggest that cohabitants are any more likely to marry each other than are couples who stick to the traditional premarital sex, long term, living apart dating/engagement routine.
Types of Cohabiting Relationships include the Linus blanket relationship, in which someone needs a live-in partner to avoid feeling alone.  Sometimes a couple will cohabitate to exercise newly found degrees of emancipation - freedom. Sometimes couples cohabitate simply because it is more convenient to live together than to keep up separate residences.

In Evaluating Cohabitation, there are both Advantages and Disadvantages.
On advantages, there are/is

  1. Greater sexual satisfaction, more self-disclosure, and more intense feelings of intimacy.
  2. Greater opportunity to understand and evaluate self - and other person.
  3. Opportunity to test the other person in all kinds of situations.
  4. A higher standard of living, resulting from the pooling of resources.
on Disadvantages, there may be:
  1. Premature limiting of the dating experience - a big deal.
  2. Perpetuation of the traditional wife role
  3. Unequal emotional involvement -
  4. Change in social life and reduction in friends
  5. legal complications.
Here is what researchers know about cohabitation:
  1. College students seem to approve of cohabitation outside of marriage, in principle anyway.
  2. Two factors that statistically predict positive attitudes about cohabitation are LOW RELIGIOSITY and HIGH SELF-ESTEEM..
  3. Most couples who cohabit do not enter into the activity without fairly careful consideration.
The formation of a cohabiting relationship is really no different from "normal" courtship patterns from the past, except for the added feature of living together. Non-cohabiting couples in the college age group, who develop serious, caring relationships are just as likely to add sexual activity to their relationship. In fact, the decision to move in together often takes a "progressive" nature: "It all started when she left her jacket in my closet .. next thing I knew, we were spitting the grocery expenses."

The factors affecting the degree to which an individual experiences or perceives the opportunity to cohabit:

  1. Environmental opportunity (pool of eligibles)
  2. Sociocultural norms within the immediate environment
  3. Isolation from conventional social control agents
  4. Interpersonal attractiveness