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Chores Without Borders: Who Helps People in Other Households?

More evidence that singles are especially unlikely to be selfish

Remember when I posed the question, "Single, no children: Who's your family?" I asked because I was starting work on a chapter with the same title. Well, those of you familiar with the norms of academic chapter-writing know that deadlines keep getting moved and chapters are rarely written in a timely fashion. That's one way of saying I am only now finishing up that chapter (and have gotten behind on your comments and emails as a consequence).

One of the studies I reviewed for the chapter is particularly relevant to our recent discussion of chores, so I thought I'd share it here. (Reference is at the end.)

The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study has followed thousands of students who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957. As adults in their 50s and 60s, the participants were twice asked whether they had given each of various kinds of help to each of various categories of people over the past month (Kahn, McGill, & Bianchi, 2011). Across all kinds of help to friends, neighbors, and coworkers, a greater percentage of the always-single men and women provided help than the previously married, the currently married in their first marriages, or the currently married in their second (or later) marriages. In fact, it was the currently married in their first marriage who always provided the lowest rates of helping to nonkin. The kinds of help that the always-single adults were more likely than adults of other marital statuses to provide to friends, neighbors, and coworkers included transportation, errands, and shopping; housework, yard work, repairs, or other work around the house; and advice, encouragement, or moral or emotional support.

Add this to your growing stack of evidence that single people are especially unlikely to be selfish or self-centered. Myths begone!


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.

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