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
today, people tend to judge the single more severely. The proportion of
Americans who are unmarried has risen steadily. The rise in the
has not been due merely to an increase in divorce. Greater numbers of
males and females are choosing to remain single for longer periods of
in some cases, for life. Even so, a higher proportion of singles
existed in the
at the beginning of the twentieth century than at the beginning of the
There is a
tendency to view singlehood in negative terms. In accord with this
perspective, there are a number of stereotypes and myths attached to
single, particularly to those never married or those divorced.
the never married are:
- They are still tied to their mothers’ apron strings;
- They are selfish;
- They are financially well-off;
- They are happier;
- There are more singles now than ever;
- Being and staying single is an
acceptable way of life;
- Something is wrong with those who never marry.
Social Factors Influencing the
in the Number of Single
People are waiting longer
The Divorce Rate rose
2nd half of the
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
50% probability (actually the rate is 22 divorces per 1000 married
This same trend in divorce has occurred in Western Europe as well and
simply a U.S. problem. (from The death of "till death
do part": the transformation of pair bonding in the 20th century.
Process, Summer, 2002, by W.M. Pinsof)
- 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 "Marriage Squeeze" is a term
describes the number of
men for women in certain demographic groups. Since the 1960s men
and women have been increasing their educational, occupational and
prospects. Since the mid-1980s men's long-standing domination in terms
socioeconomic status started to feel the effects of competition from
The death of "till death us do part": the transformation of
in the 20th century. According to ABC News, Women now comprise 57
of all college graduates in the United States. Among Hispanics, the
gap is even wider, where only 40 percent of college graduates are male.
Among blacks, two women earn bachelor's degrees for every man.
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
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
squeeze, the divorce rate,
other factors, such as less social pressure to marry before becoming
active, women may be seeking alternatives to marriage in greater
Does this spell the end to marriage as an institution? Not
The alterations in the numbers are slight, magnified only by their
nature. Young people still seek love relationships and want fairly
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
prospects for change and adaptation.
Thus, after the Women's Movement
to enlighten both women and
on issues that were long overdue for discussion and remedy, and despite
growing doubts about the (old) institution of marriage, social
were neither shocked, nor surprised that rather than disposing of the
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
Why Do People Remain Single for
Periods of Their Life?
Thus, there is both a
involuntary singlehood. Millions
of Americans choose to be single, some for life and others following
the death of a spouse. Millions of others prefer to marry but for
reasons have not or cannot.
- Career Comes First - a social necessity. With employers
education and higher skills prior to hiring, people are focusing on the
training necessary to get their careers in order before starting
This makes absolute sense.
- Change for Sex with Wide Variety of Partners - in 1950, if
was waiting at the end of high school, an young man and woman could
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
about sexual relationships. In 1950 the wait was about a
In 2004, the wait could be 5-7 years, depending on the number of times
one changes majors. Just not that realistic after all.
- Personal Freedom is a value that has only recently (since
a dominant value in the minds of advancing generations. This is
less selfish than it seems - more likely a response to social
Who are the Singles?
- An increasing
number of males and females define marriage as an impediment to a
opt to delay or forgo marriage in order to establish themselves in a
- The ready
availability of sex is a factor in remaining single: An attraction is
that sex with a variety of partners is a possibility.
- Many single people
find appealing the freedom to be spontaneous, to travel, to pursue
and to change careers without having to worry about the consequences of
actions for a family. Men seem more concerned than women about
- Another reason for
remaining single is the desire for personal growth. The never- married
high value on such things as education, competence, economic success,
improvement, learning new things, and mastering fresh challenges.
circumstances affect the likelihood of people remaining single. A
social circumstances affect the chances of getting married, including
and changing sex ratios that affect the likelihood of marriage. When
of males per one hundred females or the number of females per one
gets low, there is a “marriage squeeze.” The marriage squeeze in the
is particularly severe for black women.
- Family background
is another factor involved with remaining single; coming from a home
there has been discord or a disruption may make an individual hesitant
repeat the same kind of mistake.
It is important to note that
who remain single and are college
- Never Married Singles - Youngest Group 25 million men 20
- Separated & Divorced - The Midlife Group. 18 million
- Widowed Singles - The Oldest Group. women outnumber men 5
women 2.1 million men. 3
are women actively choosing singlehood over marriage.
- Higher IQs
- More Education
- More Prestigious Occupations
- Higher Incomes
- Better Mental Health / Well Being
Stereotyping Single Adults: Men
Women who remain single
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
to whether one will remain single. Some people, for various reasons,
fear of making a commitment to someone else. Another common reason is
simply haven’t found the right person. And, although they represent a
of those who are single, some people simply prefer the single
Single life-styles are diverse.
People in meaningful intimate
healthier than those who lack such relationships. Married people also
lower rates of emotional problems. Singles tend to suffer more from
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
- To be single is
not necessarily to live alone. In 2000 only 8.9 percent of men and 6.6
of women in the eighteen to thirty-four year age group lived alone. By
among those sixty-five years and older, 17 percent of the men and 39.6
of the women lived alone. The choice of living arrangement has obvious
on other aspects of life-style. For financial reasons or personal needs
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
experimenters are a minority of singles, and they probably won’t find
sexual satisfaction they desire, because such satisfaction is
- Without family
responsibilities, singles have more opportunities for leisure
- Comparisons of
singles and marrieds on family relations reveal that the marrieds are
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
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
and that his or her intimacy needs are being met. Although most singles
lonely, your chances of being lonely are much greater if you are single
you are married.
at a disadvantage in some of the things we
While our needs
for intimacy differ, all of us require some intimate relationships.
The pursuit of
happiness is one of the fundamental rights of all Americans and singles
involved in this pursuit.
When singles are
asked about the factors that go into their life satisfaction, their
similar to those of other Americans. Some singles,
whether never-married, divorced, or widowed, prefer their life-style
it satisfying. Yet singles are less likely than the married to perceive
themselves as having happy, exciting lives. It may be that the
accounted for by those who are involuntarily single and are therefore
satisfied with their status, but we have no research to answer the
whether the involuntary differ from the voluntary singles.
- Singles may
fulfill some of their intimacy needs by living with their parents,
acquaintances or by cohabiting. Those who live alone have a greater
establishing a number of relationships, singles in effect may create
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
have sex less often than marrieds and report less sexual satisfaction
marrieds. Sexual intimacy does not necessarily involve sexual
- Clearly, some
people regard children as an important part of their fulfillment.
numbers of single women are having children, however, those who do not
appear to adapt well in the long- run.
Singlehood as a Stage and As a Life Style
Singlehood as a Stage of
- Singlehood and possibly
are the precursors to marriage, since 95% of all Americans will marry
sometime during their lives. A Typology of Singlehood (below)
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
singles and temporarily and permanently single people, we arrive at
different types of singles.
temporarily single person could be someone who is choosing singlehood
the present time because of other matters deemed more important, but
is not opposed to marriage for themselves at some time in the
The other categories are equally logical.
IV. Cohabitation: Living
There are several ways of viewing cohabitation. As a Replacement
of traditional courtship, a couple find that living together
goals for them that living apart while dating or engaged does
As a trial marriage, a couple might want to try the idea of
as a couple before actually being wed. Anthropologist Margaret Mead
this idea as an improvement on the institution of marriage (she also
there should be at least two marriages - one for having and rearing
then another for purposes of retiring). As an alternative to
cohabitation becomes the most radical departure from traditional
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
are couples who stick to the traditional premarital sex, long term,
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
up separate residences.
In Evaluating Cohabitation,
are both Advantages and
On advantages, there are/is
on Disadvantages, there may
- Greater sexual satisfaction, more self-disclosure, and more
- Greater opportunity to understand and evaluate self - and
- Opportunity to test the other person in all kinds of
- A higher standard of living, resulting from the pooling of
Here is what researchers know
- Premature limiting of the dating experience - a big deal.
- Perpetuation of the traditional wife role
- Unequal emotional involvement -
- Change in social life and reduction in friends
- legal complications.
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,
develop serious, caring relationships are just as likely to add sexual
to their relationship. In fact, the decision to move in together often
takes a "progressive" nature: "It all started when she left her jacket
my closet .. next thing I knew, we were spitting the grocery expenses."
- College students seem to approve of cohabitation outside of
- Two factors that statistically predict positive attitudes
are LOW RELIGIOSITY and HIGH SELF-ESTEEM..
- Most couples who cohabit do not enter into the activity
The factors affecting the degree
which an individual experiences
or perceives the opportunity to cohabit:
- Environmental opportunity (pool of eligibles)
- Sociocultural norms within the immediate environment
- Isolation from conventional social control agents
- Interpersonal attractiveness