There’s always been an inherent social pressure to settle down, get married, have kids. But the paradigm is changing. For instance, in the United States the median age for a first marriage is higher than it’s ever been. Almost half of millennials seem disinclined to tie the knot before they are well into their 30s -five later than in 1980. Moreover, there are more single people than ever before. Is it that bad?
Bella DePaulo, a researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, laments that there’s very little research offering insight from single people in terms of mental, financial or emotional wellbeing. That’s because most research has focused on studying married people and only using singles as controls, DePaulo said after reviewing more than 814 published papers.
“The preoccupation with the perils of loneliness can obscure the profound benefits of solitude,” said Bella DePaulo, PhD, a scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who presented her findings at the American Psychological Association’s 124th Annual Convention. “It is time for a more accurate portrayal of single people and single life – one that recognizes the real strengths and resilience of people who are single, and what makes their lives so meaningful.”
From the little research she could gather about the single life, though, DePaulo found things aren’t as gray as some make it look — on the contrary. She cites one study which found singles value meaningful work more than married people. Another study found those who stay unmarried are more connected with their parents, siblings and friends compared to married people who often end up slowly retreating into a marital island. Single people also have a heightened sense of self-determination and they are more likely to experience “a sense of continued growth and development as a person,” DePaulo said. A 2009 study of lifelong single people found these are very self-sufficient and this self-sufficiency helps them cope with negative experiences. For married people the opposite was true.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 there were 124.6 million unmarried Americans over age 16. That’s slightly more than half of the country’s adult population. In 1976, the BLS reported this figure stood at only 37.4 percent. In light of this, should we be worried? Should we be happy? DePaulo says some people will be better off married, while others will live a better life staying single. No one status is inherently better than the other. If you’re anxious because of being single, though, make the best of it. Take advantage of all that free time and freedom to explore, learn about yourself and grows as a person. The right person and time will come. No decision has to be permanent, and there are many perks to being single, after all.
“More than ever before, Americans can pursue the ways of living that work best for them. There is no one blueprint for the good life,” she said. “What matters is not what everyone else is doing or what other people think we should be doing, but whether we can find the places, the spaces and the people that fit who we really are and allow us to live our best lives.”