Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Singlism: What It Is and Is Not, and Why It Should Be in the Dictionary

Singlism is the stigmatizing of adults who are single.

I made up the word singlism. Although some people have made fun of me for it, I have to admit I'm kind of proud of it. I'm happy about how often and how widely it has been picked up, and I hope that each use of the term brings a bit of consciousness-raising along with it.

There have also been some uses that are just wrong. So today I want to tell you what singlism really does mean, and what it does not mean. Toward the end of this post, in the section, "Singlism in Context: Excerpts from Our First Few Uses," I quote paragraphs from Singled Out and two academic papers in which singlism was first defined.

This article has five sections:

I. What Singlism Is
II. What Singlism Is Not
III. Why I Think Singlism Belongs in the Dictionary: It has already shown up in

a. Newspapers and magazines
b. Television
c. Books
d. Textbooks
e. Journals
f. Professional presentations

IV. Singlism Has Already Been Recognized as a New Word
V. Singlism in Context: Excerpts from Our First Few Uses

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Also check out the notes at the very end of the post.

I.
What Singlism Is

For a brief version, I like this two-sentence definition, though the first sentence can also stand on its own:

Singlism is the stigmatizing of adults who are single. It includes negative stereotyping of singles and discrimination against singles.

The word singlism is analogous to terms such as racism and sexism. If it were totally comparable, it would play on the phrase "marital status;" racism does not refer to a particular race nor sexism to a particular sex. But you see the problem: "marital-statusism" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue or lodge in the mind. So I named the marital status that was the target of the stereotyping and discrimination - single; single people are the ones getting hit by singlism.

II.
What Singlism Is Not

When I typed singlism into the Google search engine last week, I was delighted to get 4,940 results. I actually looked through all of them. Although some results were duplicates, there were also some significant omissions. Happily, the overwhelming majority of uses were accurate. When people got it wrong, they typically did not know this:

Singlism does NOT mean being single.

Here are three instances of incorrect usages:

  • Wrong Use Example #1: "Please don't say that new housing is ‘needed' because of increased singlism and life-expectancy."
  • Wrong Use Example #2: "Thank you Jesus for the wonderful gift of singlism."
  • Wrong Use Example #3: "Whatever state of singlism you are in, February gives you the opportunity to expand your horizons."

III.
Why I Think Singlism Belongs in the Dictionary

According to Mental Floss,

"The rule of thumb at Oxford is that a word can't be included in the dictionary until it's appeared five times, in five different sources, over a period of 5 years."

Merriam-Webster published its own criteria in its FAQ section, though more vaguely:

"To be included in a Merriam-Webster dictionary, a word must be used in a substantial number of citations that come from a wide range of publications over a considerable period of time."

Singlism shows up often in the blogosphere, especially among the blogs listed in the "singles links and resources" section of this page. It appears in lots of other places as well. Below is a sampling. The complete newspaper listings in the Google search results were especially numerous, including national and international papers and articles written in languages I could not even identify. Under journals, I do not include any of the listings of my own publications.


NEWSPAPERS AND MAGAZINES

New York Times
One singular sensation
The Caucus: Rendell on Napolitano's ‘No Life'
A guide to embracing life as a single (without the resignation, that is)

The Wall Street Journal
The Juggle: Janet Napolitano and the persistence of ‘singlism'

Washington Post
On Balance: Singled Out

Associated Press

Living Single

Washington Times
Older single women live it up

The Week (no link in the Google search)
‘Singlism': Do only married people have lives? (December 19, 2008)

TELEVISION

The Tyra Banks Show (thanks, Keysha Whitaker!)
ABC news

BOOKS:

Family Ties and Aging
Women and Men in Management

TEXTBOOKS:

Social Psychology (12th edition)
Psychology Applied to Modern Life

JOURNALS

Sex Roles
Perfidious and pernicious singlism

European Journal of Social Psychology
Group commitment in the face of discrimination: The role of legitimacy

Hastings Law Journal
The single taxpayer in a joint return world

Social Work Practice
The Negative Stereotyping of single Persons Scale (by our friend Monica Pignotti!)

Journal of Consumer Marketing
Baby boom singles

Human Resource Management Journal
Work-life policy implementation: Breaking down or creating barriers to inclusiveness?

Association for Psychological Science: Observer
Love's labor's found

PROFESSIONAL PRESENTATIONS

Berkeley Center for the Study of Law and Society
Singlism: Do the Rights of Unmarried Workers Need Protection?
Mario Barnes, U.C. Irvine Law School

Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Imagery
The Stigma of Single: Singlism in the 21st Century and Finding the Happily Ever After
Diane Matuschka, University of North Florida

Association for Consumer Research
Party of one: The single's response to marketing singlism
Aubrey Fowler, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Association of Psychological Science
Singlism in an Asian Culture: An Exploratory Study
Ivy Lau, Singapore Management University

IV.
Singlism Has Already Been Recognized as a New Word

While studying the results of my Google search, I discovered that the singlism had already been recognized as a new word in several places, such as these:

V.
Singlism in Context: Excerpts from Our First Few Uses

The first time I used the word singlism in a published paper was in an article I wrote with Wendy Morris, "Singles in society and in science." It was the target article in the journal Psychological Inquiry in 2005, in a special issue featuring 10 comments on our article and our response to the comments. Here's what we said on p. 60:

"One of the most important implications of the Ideology of Marriage and Family is that adults who are single in contemporary American society are a stigmatized group. As such, they are targets of negative stereotyping, interpersonal rejection, economic disadvantage, and discrimination (Crocker, Major, & Steele, 1998). We refer to this antisingles sentiment as singlism."

In my book Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, first published in hardcover in 2006, I said this on page 2:

"People who do not have a serious coupled relationship (my definition, for now, of single people) are stereotyped, discriminated against, and treated dismissively. This stigmatization of people who are single - whether divorced, widowed, or ever single - is the twenty-first-century problem that has no name. I'll call it singlism."

In 2006, Current Directions in Psychological Science invited me and Wendy Morris to write a brief article on singlism. (It is just 4 pages, so it is a good starting point if you want to offer students or others a quick introduction.) Here's what we said in the first paragraph of our paper (p. 251):

"For years, we have been studying what we call singlism, the stigmatizing of adults who are single. We have found evidence of singlism in the negative stereotypes and discrimination faced by singles (DePaulo, 2006; DePaulo & Morris, 2005a; DePaulo & Morris, 2005b). Although singlism is a nonviolent, softer form of bigotry than what is often faced by other stigmatized groups such as African Americans or gay men and lesbians, the impact of singlism is far ranging. Unlike more familiar isms such as racism, sexism, or heterosexism, singlism is not often recognized, and when it is pointed out, it is often regarded as legitimate."

[Note: Someone asked me to write this post about a year ago. I thought it was a great idea but never got to it until now. Problem is, I can't remember who made the suggestion! If you are the one, please let me know and I will add a note of thanks. More generally, if you ever see something posted that you suggested to me, only without any credit attached, please get in touch. I like to thank the people who offer me great tips.]

[Question to Readers: If you have more than a passing familiarity with Wikipedia, please let me know whether you think a revised version of this post could be a Wikipedia entry, and if so, whether I could enter it myself or whether someone else would have to.]

[Blog Crawl continues: Today is Day 2 of the Singles Week blog crawl. Lori Bizzoco is hosting, and Melissa Braverman wrote the post. Tomorrow, my All Things Single blog will host Rachel Buddeberg, who wrote a fabulous essay on valuing all of our relationships. Can't wait to post it.]

 

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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