Many domains of single life are perceived more positively than married life

New research suggests that Americans do not tend to perceive married life more positively than single life, except when it comes to feelings of confidence, contentment and security. The findings have been published in the journal Personal Relationships.

“Although people have a need to connect with others, the ways that they wish to do so may be shifting. It’s important to understand the benefits, consequences, and new ideas surrounding partnership, since studies have shown that relationships, identities, and lifestyles all impact well-being,” said study author Amanda Nicole Gesselman, associate director of research and Anita Aldrich Endowed Research Scientist at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University.

“Over the past years, I’ve conducted multiple projects on ‘singlism,’ which is stigma directed at people for being single — meaning American adults are seen as abnormal when they’re single, since the societal norm has been to grow up and get married.”

But “more adults in the U.S. today are single than ever before, which may change perceptions of singlehood and of married life as more people either are single or have friends or family that are single,” Gesselman said.

The researchers surveyed 6,576 adults regarding their perceptions of married life. The sample included 3,159 individuals who had never been married, 1,772 who were separated or divorced, 550 who were widowed, and 1,095 who were currently married.

“One of the main findings from this study is that American adults, regardless of relationship status, feel positively about single life across a number of areas. For example, when comparing single life to married life, participants felt that single life was characterized by having more friendships and a more interesting social life,” Gesselman told PsyPost.

“However, on average, participants did feel that married life provided an advantage in terms of positive mental states, such as feelings of confidence, contentment, and security.”

The researchers also found that having been married was associated with altered perceptions toward single life. Compared to those who had never been married, participants who had ever been married believed that single people have more sex, have more interesting social lives, and work harder to stay in shape than married people.

“Some areas that still need exploring are the effects of remarriage on perceptions of married life — we didn’t have data to investigate whether being in your first marriage or a remarriage changes how positively one views married life or single life — and the underlying mechanism behind changes in views of these lifestyles,” Gesselman added.

“For instance, these more positive views of single life may reflect exposure to more and more singles, reflecting on one’s own life as a single person before marriage, or unhappiness with one’s current relationship status.”

The study, “Perceptions of married life among single nevermarried, single ever-married, and married adults“, was authored by Amanda N. Gesselman, Carol Y. Franco, Elizabeth M. Brogdon, Peter B. Gray, Justin R. Garcia, and Helen E. Fisher.