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).
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