Monday, September 27, 2010

Addressing 'Myths' About the Unmarried

Bella DePaulo, who 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, wrote this article I found through Yahoo. It promises "8 myths about being single". Let’s take a look. (And if you’re new to this blog, I’m married with kids, and I’d like to believe being a married father makes my life better.)

Have you heard that single people are miserable and lonely and die alone in their empty apartments where they are eaten by their cats?
Yes. I have also heard that some unmarried people who live alone love it. I was quite happy most of the time I lived alone.

Myth #1: Singles are less happy than married people
I've heard this one a lot. Either way, it is a percentage game and it is impossible to know for sure if person X would be happier if his or her life was completely different. All we can know is that Group A reports being happier than Group B. But that's an average, and there will be miserable people in Group A and very happy people in Group B. Let's say Group A are married people. Maybe kind of people who marry are also the kind of people who are more likely to report being happy? Maybe they are more likely to be happy? Either way, maybe happy people are more likely to attract a spouse. Even if they report being happier married than they reported when they were unmarried, it could be a function of aging/career advancement, or something else – they are older when they're married than they were when they were unmarried.

Anyway, let's see how she debunks this "myth".

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.
Citation, please?

Second, getting married hardly changes someone's happiness at all.
It does if you 1) wanted to be married, and 2) found that it is at least as good as you'd hoped. You'll be happier in that case. You'll be less happy if you find out that you married the wrong person or marriage isn't as good as you thought it would be.

Okay, so we're supposed to take her word for it that studies show this to be myth. Or buy the book.

Myth #2: Single people favor solitude
Some do.

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.
Uhm, yes, and so do married people. The dfference is that married people also have one person especially to whom they have a legal, social, residential, and sexual connection.

After all, they have the time to forge many diverse relationships, which married sorts often don't.
Many married people do have less time or friend and relatives. But married people often gain more of these connections through the marriage, and hang out with them as a couple.

Myth #3: Elderly women live in isolation
See #2. I'm thinking some of these myths are strawmen.

Myth #4: Single people don't live as long as married folks.
This is another one like #1. A lot of the same stuff applies.

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.
This is news to me - at least, the stuff about those who never married.

Myth #5: Single people are self-centered.
Some are. Some married people are, too.

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.
This doesn't mean they aren't self-centered. Some people reach out to others so as to have someone else to hear them talk about themselves. Unmarried people love to give advice about marriage and parenting. Married people may be more likely to bite their tongues, knowing from experience that they don't have all of the answers.

Myth #6: The children of single parents are destined to live haplessly.
Strawman. Not having a mother or not having a father raises the risk of certain negative indicators. And we know they are destined to live... without a mother or without a father.

Teens living with a father and stepmother, for example, had higher rates of substance abuse than teens raised by single mothers.
Stepparents are a whole 'nother can of worms.

Myth #7: Single people are not as healthy as people who get married.
This is another one like #1 and #4.

Typically, people who have always been single are very similar in their health to people who are currently married.
Are we comparing the same age groups? Because most people do marry, and the way that works out is that unmarried people are more likely to be in their early 20s – and thus healthier than people in their 40s.

There is, though, one exception where single people are actually healthier than attached types: married people are more overweight!
Again, they tend to be older, right? But yes, some people "let themselves go" once thet get someone to sign on the dotted line.

As for divorce, some research actually shows that people become healthier after they divorce than they were when they were married.
Sure – haven't you noticed that divorced women know they need to shape up? And as for guys, if he doesn't feel like he needs to drink himself silly every night to deal with a bad wife, then he's going to be healthier once she's not there, right? Same goes for women - if they are not longer depressed by living with a bad husband, they're likely going to eat better.

Myth #8: Single people waste money on frivolous things for themselves.
Some do. Especially those who expect someone else will come along and pay off their debts and provide financial security. Some married people also waste money.

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?
Very good point. However, people tend to spend the most one their weddings before they are married. So, technically, they're unmarried when they are doing most of the spending. We can split hairs about "unmarried" vs. "single", though.

Coupled-up sorts are no more generous than single people when it comes to giving financial help to family members.
What does that have to do with anything? What about saving for retirement?

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.
Well, yeah! It’s called having a wife to support and who can veto spending decisions. Plus, the spending could be an attractant – one that is not needed when married.

There you have it. I was really hoping for more information about #1,4, and 7. Then again, these articles can't be long enough and so can't get too detailed. Notice also that Bella didn't address sex.

Generally, I don't think someone should decide to marry or stay unmarried based on stats that say they'll be more likely to be healthier and happier one way or other other. Each person should think carefully about what kind of life they want and are suited to live, then behave accordingly. One should marry if he or she 1) wants to be married, having a good idea of what marriage means; 2) is prepared to be a spouse; and 3) has found the right person to marry.

Your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. curiepoint8:09 PM

    As a man who was married and is now single, I never use oft-stated statistics to dictate the course of my life. There's a flavor of conformity in it that is quite distasteful.

    Don't get me wrong...a lot of those statistics have at least some grounding in observable behavior. But then, those same statistics can be refuted in my eyes by the same personal observations around me.

    Married men for instance, may appear happier, but only physically. Emotionally, they appear to be hollow, burned out shells of human beings. When every decision they make must pass muster with "The Boss" and how it affects the children, they appear more hapless than ever before. The comic image of a henpecked husband is not merely a meme; it has a lot basis in fact. Granted, some men welcome the restrictions on decisions that marriage prescribes, but I was never that guy; nor in fact is any other man that I know, married or not.

    The one I laugh about is how sex is better in marriage than in singlehood. Assuming that this is intended to convince men of the "truth" I am willing to bet that as sex goes down in frequency and intensity, the men are fine with that fact out of sheer boredom. So they say that they are happy with their sex lives when they actually mean that they're happy with their no-sex lives.

    My choice is a simple one. Stay single and at least be perfectly free to choose my own path. I realize that a lot of men are happy within the guilded cage of matrimony and to them I say more power to you. By what I have seen, as opposed to what has been said to me, marriage is no sort of option because it makes no promises. Single life is at least a life in which I choose, and there's only one person to blame if things don't go well.

    Most times it does, though.


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