Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Part 1: Does It Matter If You Are Single with No Kids?

Singles with no kids in later life.

Two years ago, I was invited to write a chapter, Single, No Children: Who Is Your Family? I shared the outline with Living Single readers at the time. Then when I had a complete first draft, I also posted the conclusions section. I was a bit reluctant about those posts at first, because the chapter was written for an academic volume, but they were popular reads here.

That chapter is now in print, except for a long section I wrote on the implications of living single with no children. It got cut because of space limitations. So I’m going to share it here, in a series of four posts. This will be the first. The four parts may not be consecutive: if something timely comes up, I’ll give that priority. Ultimately, though, the four parts will appear here.

 Though the titles may be different than the ones below, the topics of the four posts will be:

  1. Singles with no children: are they lonely, depressed, and alone in later life? (this post)
  2. Family-relevant strengths of singles with no children
  3. Family-relevant strengths of singles with no children, continued
  4. Family-relevant vulnerabilities of singles with no children (references will be included with this final part of the series)

A few other notes before proceeding: If you want to hear more about what I’m up to these days, I just wrote about that at my personal blog, “All Things Single (and More).” If you do not follow my other blog regularly, you may want to take a look at that, too. One of the most popular of my recent posts over there was, What Is the Ultimate Commitment? You can always find writings by other singles bloggers at Single with Attitude.

Singles with no children: are they lonely, depressed, and alone in later life?

 Among the most popular scare stories about single people with no children is that they will grow old alone: miserable, lonely, and with no one there for them when they are most in need. Like so many other stereotypes about single people, this is a myth (DePaulo, 2006, 2011a). The research already reviewed shows that single people (and especially single women), are likely to be embedded in a personal community. Their list of confidants often includes people who are not kin.

As I have described in detail previously (DePaulo, 2011a), there are many claims in the literature that single people are lonely and that getting married eases that loneliness, but a close look at the original research reports suggests much more qualified conclusions. In fact, in a study of older people (mean age 72) of different marital statuses, no group described lower levels of emotional loneliness (the absence of intimacy or closeness) than the women who had always been single (Dykstra & de Jong Gierveld, 2004).

It is also untrue that single people with no children are especially likely to be depressed in later life. Bures, Koropeckyj-Cox, and Loreee (2009) analyzed the responses of more than 17,000 Americans, 51 and older, from the Health and Retirement Study. They compared depression among different marital and parental statuses, distinguishing, for example, between biological and social parenting, and between people with and without living children. Across all of the marital status groups, depression was lowest among those who had no biological or social children. In her analyses of data on loneliness and depression from the National Survey of Families and Households (again for people in middle and old age), Koropeckyj-Cox (1998) found that men and women with no children who had always been single were no different in their well-being than their married peers.

There are, of course, singles with no children who are lonely, depressed, and alone, just as there are married people and parents who fit that description. Their experiences are consequential and deserving of attention. My point here is that statistically, those singles with no children who feel depressed and lonely are the exceptions rather than the norm.

[Part 2 is here.]

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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