One last preliminary note: Remember that you can always catch the latest feeds from other singles bloggers at Single with Attitude.
Family-Relevant Vulnerabilities of Singles with No Children
In the United States, to be single is to be economically disadvantaged by law. (For a discussion of legal discrimination as well as other instances of singlism, see DePaulo 2006 and DePaulo 2011). There are more than 1,100 federal laws that benefit and protect only those who are legally married. Consider the example of a single person who works side-by-side with a married coworker at the same job, at the same level of achievement, for the same number of years. When the married worker dies, he or she can leave Social Security benefits to a surviving spouse (and, under certain circumstances, a whole series of ex-spouses); the benefits of the single worker with no children go back into the system. Similarly, no other person can give their Social Security benefits to an adult who has always been single. The important people in the lives of single Americans are considered inconsequential in many matters of the law.
Single Americans also have less access to affordable health insurance. At some workplaces, a married person can add a spouse to a health care plan at a reduced rate. People in civil unions sometimes qualify too. Single people typically cannot add a parent, sibling, close friend or anyone else to their plan, nor can anyone add the single person to their plan. Again, single people without children, and the people who are important to them, are simply not accorded the same basic opportunities and protections as are married people.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives single Americans without children short shrift, too. Any qualifying adult, regardless of marital status, can take time off under the Act to care for a parent. But no one can take time to care for singles with no children who fall ill. Nor can such singles take time off Act to care for people who are important to them, such as siblings, nieces and nephews, or close friends.
The implications can be profound (Tamborini, 2007). As Alicia Munnell (2011), a former member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, has noted:
“Of all the factors associated with poverty in old age, the most critical is to be a woman without a husband. Nonmarried women who enter retirement tend to end up poor, because the U.S. retirement income system bases benefits on earnings, and women have lower lifetime earnings than men. Married women, who share in their husband’s benefits, fare much better than single women. Only 8 percent of married women aged 65 to 69 are poor or near poor, compared to 28 percent of the nonmarried.”
In informal ways, too, the important people in the lives of singles with no children are overlooked or devalued. In workplaces, employees who offer up child or spouse-relevant reasons for leaving early or taking particular vacation dates or eluding unattractive travel assignments are indulged more readily than singles with comparable reasons relevant to the important people in their lives. In the social events of everyday life, married people often find that their spouse is routinely included in their invitations. Singles, though, are less often welcomed to bring a person of their choosing, unless that person is a long-term romantic partner or other spouse-like figure.
Singles with no children, then, are targets of discrimination, stereotyping, and interpersonal exclusion. This singlism, unlike other isms, is often practiced without apology or even awareness (DePaulo, 2011b; Morris, Sinclair, & DePaulo, 2007). Considering these experiences, it is remarkable that singles fare so well in health, happiness, and in so many other ways (DePaulo, 2006, 2011a).
Amato, P. R., Booth, A., Johnson, D. R., & Rogers, S. J. (2007). Alone together: How marriage in America is changing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Antonucci, T. C., & Akiyama, H. (1995). Convoys of social relations: Family and friendships within a life span context. In R. Bliezner & V. H. Bedford (Eds.), Handbook of aging and the family (pp. 355-371). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Bucx, F., van Wel, F., Knijn, T., & Hagendoorn, L. (2008). Intergenerational contact and the life course status of young adult children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 144-156.
Bures, R. M., Koropeckyj-Cox, T., & Loree, M. (2009). Childlessness, parenthood, and depressive symptoms among middle-aged and older adults. Journal of Family Issues, 30, 670-687.
Carr, D. (2008). The desire to date and remarry among older widows and widowers. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 1051-1068.
Collins, G. (2008, December 4). One singular sensation. New York Times.
Coltrane, S. (2001). Marketing the marriage “solution”: Misplaced simplicity in the politics of fatherhood. Sociological Perspectives, 44, 387-418.
Connidis, I. A. (2001). Family ties and aging. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Coontz, S. (2000). Historical perspectives on family studies. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, 283-297.
Coser, L., & Coser, R. (1974). Greedy institutions: Patterns of undivided commitment. New York: Free Press.
Cwikel, J., Gramotnev, H., & Lee, C. (2006). Never-married childless women in Australia: Health and social circumstances in older age. Social Science & Medicine, 62, 1991-2001.
DePaulo, B. (2006). Singled out: How singles are stereotyped, stigmatized, and ignored, and still live happily ever after. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
DePaulo, B. (2011a). Living single: Lightening up those dark, dopey myths. In W. R. Cupach & B. H. Spitzberg (Eds.), The dark side of close relationships II (pp. 409-439). New York: Routledge.
DePaulo, B. (2011b). Singlism: What it is, why it matters, and how to stop it. Charleston, SC: DoubleDoor Books.
Dykstra, P. A., & de Jong Gierveld, J. (2004). Gender and marital-history differences in emotional and social loneliness among Dutch older adults. Canadian Journal on Aging, 23, 141-155.
Dykstra, P. A., & Hagestad, G. O. (2007). Roads less taken: Developing a nuanced view of older adults without children. Journal of Family Issues, 28, 1275-1310.
Fielding, H. (1996). Bridget Jones’s diary. New York: Viking.
Fiori, K. L., Antonucci, T. C., & Cortina, K. S. (2006). Social network typologies and mental health among older adults. Journal of Gerontology: Series B, 61, P25-P32.
Gerstel, N., & Sarkisian, N. (2006). Marriage: The good, the bad, and the greedy. Contexts, 5, 16-21.
Gerstel, N., & Sarkisian, N. (2007). Intergenerational care and the greediness of adult children’s marriages. In T. J. Owens & J. J. Suitor (Eds.), Intergenerational relations across the life course: Advances in life course research (Vol. 12, pp. 153-188). San Diego, CA: JAI Press.
Ha, J.-H., & Carr, D. (2005). The effect of parent-child geographical proximity on widowed parents’ psychological adjustment and social integration. Research on Aging, 27, 578-610.
Hampton, K. N., Sessions, L. F., & Ja Her, E. (2011). Core networks, social isolation, and new media: Internet and mobile phone use, network size, and diversity. Information, Communication, & Society, 14, 130-155.
Henz, U. (2006). Informal caregiving at working age: Effects of job characteristics and family configuration. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 411-429.
Hertz, R., & Ferguson, F. I. T. (1997). Kinship strategies and self-sufficiency among single mothers by choice: Postmodern family ties. Qualitative Sociology, 20, 187-209.
Heymann, J. (2000). The widening gap: Why America’s working families are in jeopardy – and what can be done about it. New York: Basic Books.
Kahn, J. R., McGill, B. S., & Bianchi, S. M. (2011). Help to family and friends: Are there gender differences at older ages? Journal of Marriage and Family, 73, 77-92.
Kahn, R. L., & Antonucci, T. C. (1980). Convoys across the life course: Attachment, roles, and social support. In P. B. Baltes & O. C. Brim (Eds.), Life-span, development, and behavior (pp. 254-283). New York: Academic Press.
Kalmijn, M. (2003). Friendship networks over the life course: A test of the dyadic withdrawal hypothesis using survey data. Social Networks, 25, 231-249.
Kennedy, T. L. M., & Wellman, B. (2007). The networked household. Information, Communication, & Society, 10, 645-670.
Kornblut, A. E. (2010, April 22). DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano winning over heavyweights with her persona. Washington Post.
Koropeckyj-Cox, T. (1998). Loneliness and depression in middle and old age: Are the childless more vulnerable? Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 53B, S303-S312.
Levin, I. (2004). Living apart together: A new family form. Current Sociology, 52, 223-240.
Livingston, G., & Cohn, D. (2010, June). Childlessness up among all women; down among women with advanced degrees. Pew Research Center, Social and Demographic Trends Report.
Marks, N. F. (1996). Flying solo at midlife: Gender, marital status, and psychological well-being. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 58, 917-932.
McAdams, D. P., & de St. Aubin, E. (1992). A theory of generativity and its assessment through self-report, behavioral acts, and narrative themes in autobiography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 1003-1015.
Milardo, R. M. (2010). The forgotten kin: Aunts and uncles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Morris, W. L., Sinclair, S., & DePaulo, B. M. (2007). No shelter for singles: The perceived legitimacy of marital status discrimination. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 10, 457-470.
Munnell, A. H. (2011, August 8). Is America ready for more old men? Costs vs. benefits. “Room for Debate,” New York Times.
Pahl, R., & Pevalin, D. J. (2005). Between family and friends: a longitudinal study of friendship choice. British Journal of Sociology, 56, 433-350.
Parsons, T. (1965). The normal American family. In S. M. Farber, P. Mustacchi, & R. H. L. Wilson (Eds.), Man and civilization: The family’s search for survival (pp. 31-50). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Roseneil, S. (2004). Why we should care about friends: An argument for queering the care imaginary in social policy. Social Policy & Society, 3, 409-419.
Roseneil, S., & Budgeon, S. (2004). Cultures of intimacy and care beyond ‘the family’: Personal life and social change in the early 21st century. Current Sociology, 52, 135-159.
Rubinstein, R. L., Alexander, B. B., Goodman, M., & Luborsky, M. (1991). Key relationships of never married, childless older women: A cultural analysis. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 45, S270-S277.
Saluter, A. F., & Lugaila, T. A. (1996, March). Marital status and living arrangements: March 1996. Census Bureau Current Population Reports, Document P20-496.
Sarkisian, N., & Gerstel, N. (2008). Till marriage do us part: Adult children’s relationships with their parents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 360-376.
Scanzoni, J. (2001). From the normal family to alternate families to the quest for diversity with interdependence. Journal of Family Issues, 22, 688-710.
Simon, B. L. (1987). Never married women. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Simpson, R. (2003. Contemporary spinsters in the new millennium: Changing notions of family and kinship. London School of Economics, Gender Institute. New Working Papers Series.
Smith, D. E. (1993). The Standard North American Family: SNAF as an ideological code. Journal of Family Issues, 14, 50-65.
Spencer, L., & Pahl, R. (2006). Rethinking friendship: Hidden solidarities today. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Spitze, G., & Trent, K. (2006). Gender differences in adult sibling relations in two-child families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 977-992.
Tamborini, C. R. (2007). The never-married in old age: Projections and concerns for the near future. Social Security Bulletin, 67, 25-40.
Taylor, J., & Turner, R. J. (2001). A longitudinal study of the role and significance of mattering to others for depressive symptoms. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 42, 310-325.
Taylor, P. (2010, November). The decline of marriage and rise of new families. Pew Research Center, Social and Demographic Trends Report.
Trimberger, E. K. (2005). The new single woman. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
United Nations (2009). Demographic yearbook 2006. New York: United Nations.
U. S. Census Bureau (2009). 2009 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. Table B12002: Sex by Marital Status by Age for the Population 15 Years and Over.
U. S. Census Bureau (2010, November). Current Population Survey, March and Annual Social and Economic Supplements, 2010 and earlier. Table HH-4, Households by Size: 1960 to Present.
Weeks, J., Heaphy, B. & Donovan, C. (2001), Same sex intimacies: Families of choice and other life experiments. London: Routledge.
Wellman, B. (2001). Physical space and cyberspace: the rise of personalized networks. International Urban and Regional Research, 25, 227-252.
Wellman, B. (2007). The network is personal: Introduction to a special issue of Social Networks. Social Networks, 29, 349-356.
Wenger, G. C., Dykstra, P. A., Melkas, T., & Knipscheer, K. C. P. M. (2007). Social embeddedness and late-life parenthood: Community activity, close ties, and support networks. Journal of Family Issues, 28, 1419-1456.
Weston, K. (1991). Families we choose: Lesbians, gays, kinship. New York: Columbia University Press.
White, L. (2001). Sibling relationships over the life course: A panel analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 555-568.