The price of being single

Singlism and matrimania are the result of cultural insecurities. Perhaps counterintuitively, DePaulo thinks that the prejudice against single people and the hysteria about marriage are an outgrowth of our insecurities. “If the benefits of marriage were perfectly obvious to people, we wouldn’t need all this hype around it,” she says. The benefits marriage used to confer can now be attained in other ways: single women can have kids, sleep with partners without anyone batting an eye, and support themselves. To say marriage is a good choice for those who genuinely want it is one thing, but to believe that married people are unilaterally better off than single people is, DePaulo suggests, to betray a deeper ambivalence about what makes marriage a worthwhile decision.

The meme that married people are happier and healthier than single people is unfounded. DePaulo dug into the research supposedly proving the benefits of getting married and found substantial experimental flaws across the board. (Often, these studies either excluded divorced people entirely or lumped them in with single people, thereby obscuring the fact that they had gotten married — and hadn’t liked it. Another problem: Unlike with drug studies, a study of marriage can never truly isolate that variable; you can’t randomly assign people to get married or not.) The least problematic research, in DePaulo’s estimation, which follows the same people over the long term, has found that around the time of their weddings, people show a brief increase in happiness, then go right back to where they were when they were single. (If they get divorced later, they don’t even show this brief honeymoon effect.) Stigma against single parents is easily debunked, too: what’s really bad for kids is not having a single parent, but “conflict, acrimony or cold, neglectful environments.”