For all of the debauchery of so many weddings, though, perhaps the celebration is simply a one-time splurge - or one time for each marriage. Afterwards, the newly married couple can be expected to settle in to a lifetime of altruism and selflessness.
Some people really believe this. One of them is sociologist Steven Nock. To answer the question of whether married people are more selfless than singletons, you first need to decide what counts as selflessness. Nock looked at one of the most straightforward measures: giving money. He had access to nationally representative survey data from thousands of Americans who were questioned in 1987 or 1988, then again five years later. The participants were asked to name all of the people to whom they had given at least $200 in the past year, and to categorize those people as friends or relatives. How did patterns of giving change, Nock wondered, for people who had transitioned in or out of marriage in that five year interval? Nock's specific interest was in the role of marriage in the lives of men, so he only described the answers given by the men.
Recognize at the outset that this is a set-up. First, as I will discuss in Chapter 12, single men are paid less than married men, even when they have the same level of seniority and the same accomplishments. So, on the average, $200 is a greater proportion of the income of a single man than a married man. Second, as Nock acknowledges, gifts from married men are often gifts from the couple, not just the man. For working men who are married to working women (which is most of them), and putting two salaries toward the expenses of one household (as almost all of them do), $200 is part of a much larger pot than that of the single man whose one salary covers all of the expenses of one household. Finally, the money given by a married man may not have anything at all to do with his own personal spirit of generosity. Nock frames that argument this way: "Might it be that any change in men's giving associated with marriage is because wives make such decisions? The stingy bachelor may not change at all once he gets married. Perhaps he parts with his (their) money only because his wife insists."
Now that I have lined up all of my reasons for why married men might give $200 gifts more often than single men even if they really are not any more generous, I can tell you the results. Men who married were not any more generous than they were before. The frequency with which married men gave such sums to relatives was no different than the frequency with which single men did so. That similarity is remarkable in light of all of the additional relatives married men have that single men do not (obviously, all of the wife's relatives).
There was a marked difference, though, in generosity to people who were not relatives. Men who married gave an average of $1,875 less to friends than they had when they were single. The reverse was true for men who had divorced: They gave an average of $1,275 more to friends than they had when they were married. Men who remarried went back to being less generous to their friends (by $1,050) than they had been when they were divorced.
In sum, men who are single give no less to relatives than men who are married, despite drawing from one (rather than two) incomes and getting paid less to boot. And, they give more to friends than married men do. Still, Nock calls the single man a "stingy bachelor."
Regardless of their financial means, men of all civil statuses can be generous with other resources, such as their time and their work outside of work - for example, housework. Stereotypically, single men are slobs. Maybe when they marry, they give their wives the gift of the housework that they never did as bachelors. Nock looked into that, but it is not what he found. Men who married spent an average of 1.4 hours less on housework each week than they had when they were single. If they divorced, they spent 3.8 hours more than they had when they were married, and if they remarried, they spent 4.7 hours per week less than they had when they were divorced.
One of the cliches about marriage is that it takes self-centered singles and turns them into concerned citizens. By marrying, the story goes, adults begin to feel that they have a stake in the fate of the nation that they did not have as self-absorbed singles. If this were true, then married people might be expected to put their time where their values are. They may, for example, devote more time to just those organizations billed as providing service to the community and to society. They might also become more involved in political groups. Nock looked into these possibilities, too. But he found no differences. Men who married spent no more time in service clubs, political groups, or fraternal organizations than they had when they were single.
Nock believes that marriage motivates men to work harder and more responsibly. As he notes in his chapter on adult achievement, "Marriage is also the engine that fuels greater effort and dedication to the goal of doing well." Workers who care about the good of their fellow workers and about their occupation or profession should put in the time to back up that dedication. Married men could, for example, evince their greater responsibility to the workplace by participating more often in groups such as farm organizations, unions, or professional societies. Only they don't. In fact, according to Nock's own reporting, men who marry spent less time at such work-related activities than they had when they were single. They do, though, work 2.2 weeks more per year than they had before. That's the kind of work that pays - them, but not anyone else. Even this one marriage incentive fizzles for men who remarry; they work 7.4 weeks less than they had when they were divorced.
Of all of the types of organizations the men were asked about in the survey, there was only one to which men devoted more of their time once they had married - church groups. There was little indication, then, that men who married became more generous with their money or their time than they had been before they wed, and some indications they were less so. Yet, when Nock gets to the last few sentences of the last page of his book on marriage in men's lives, he offers this conclusion:
"Husbands will be changed by their marriages. They will earn more and achieve more. They will become members of organizations devoted to improving communities. They will be generous to their relatives. These are things our society values. Those who engage in them earn our respect and thanks. Collectively, we value and depend on such people. When men marry, they are more likely to make such contributions. They become better men."
Nock did not, in his book, gather all of the studies that had ever been published on differences between married and single men in gift giving, service, or housekeeping. He selected one set of survey data to analyze. That means he was selective in what he presented right from the start. What is striking about his conclusion is that it does not even represent accurately the data he did choose to present. It is as if Nock decided at the outset that single men were "stingy bachelors" and he was not about to let the data dissuade him.
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For anyone interested, here are a few other Living Single posts about single men: