I’m tired of single people getting labelled as selfish, and I’m even more exasperated when single people do that to themselves — or when they do it in a way that is meant to be derogatory. Single people are more generous with their time, money, and caring, but they shouldn’t have to prove anything.

Why Singles Aren’t The Selfish People You Think They Are

Living Alone | 9th June 2022 by Bella DePaulo

I’m tired of single people getting labelled as selfish, and I’m even more exasperated when single people do that to themselves — or when they do it in a way that is meant to be derogatory. Single people are more generous with their time, money, and caring, but they shouldn’t have to prove anything.

Why Singles Aren't The Selfish People You Think They Are

In the second of this 2-part article, I’ll share some ideas about what it can mean to be selfish (my own, and better still, the ideas of some other people wiser than me) and why single people need to stop acting like they have something to apologise for.

For this first part, here is some of the evidence indicating that single people are more generous with their time, money, and caring — even though they are under no obligation to be.

Single people are more generous with their TIME

Single people give their time to important causes and organisations, as the following studies show.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps tabs on volunteering for eight different kinds of organisations and two miscellaneous categories. They compare single people, married people, and previously married people. When I scrutinised their findings in 2016, I learned that the single people volunteered more than the married people in:

  •  social and community service organisations, 
  • environmental or animal care organisations; 
  • cultural, arts, hobbies, and sports groups, 
  • hospitals and other health organisations,  
  • public safety organisations, 
  • the two miscellaneous categories, and 
  • educational and youth services. 

That last category is especially striking because single people are less likely to have children than married people are. The single and married people volunteered equally for the category of civic, political, professional, and international organisations — but the unmarried people who were previously married volunteered the most for those organisations. 

Only in 1 of the 1o categories – religious organisations, did the married people volunteer more than the single people or previously married people.

2  A study that followed thousands of participants from their high school days into their 50s and 60s found that singles are more likely than adults of other marital statuses to provide help to friends, neighbours, and coworkers. Included in the types of help they provided were transportation, errands, and shopping; housework, gardening, repairs, or other work around the house; and advice, encouragement, moral and emotional support.

A study of more than 10,000 Australian women in their 70s found that the lifelong single women with no children were more likely to provide volunteer services than any of the other groups they studied – married women with and without children, and previously married women with and without children.

With one exception (a familiar one), men are more giving of their time when they are single than they are if they get married. I learned this when I studied a book on marriage in men’s lives line for line, including all the data points that were reported. 

The single men gave more of their time to groups such as professional organisations, unions, and farm organisations than they did after they married. 

The men who married did not spend any more time in service clubs, political groups, or fraternal organisations than they did when they were single. 

The men did not even give more of their time to doing housework when they married (a kind of gift to their wives); they spent less time on household chores than they did when they were single. There was just one way that men who married gave more — they devoted more of their time to church groups.

Studies of people who live alone have shown that they use their time in ways that benefit the places where they live: “Compared with people who live with others, single people and solo dwellers are also more engaged in the life of the cities and towns where they live. They take more music and art classes, participate in more public events and civic groups, go out to dinner more often, and pursue more informal social activities.”

Single people are more generous with their MONEY

To cover their expenses, single people have just their own income. They are financially disadvantaged in many ways, including some that are written right into the laws of the land. By one estimate, over the course of a lifetime, single women may end up paying more than a million dollars more in taxes, healthcare expenses, and more, than married women. 

Single men are disadvantaged, too: They get paid less than married men, even when their accomplishments are the same. Still, they are more generous.

Data from the study of marriage in men’s lives showed that the men who married gave less money to friends than the single men did. They gave no more to relatives than the single men, despite sometimes having two incomes to draw from instead of just one, and getting paid more, too.

What single women do with their money

When single women spend money on themselves, they do not just spend it on personal indulgences. They seem to look at the big picture, what might matter in the long run, and invest there. 

For example, when single women get a windfall in the form of an inheritance, there is something they do more often than married women, married men, or single men: They start their own business.

When single women want something substantial, such as a home, and they don’t have enough money, they save more and work more. It is not just their lower incomes (relative to married couples, unmarried couples, and single men) that stand in the way of single women’s home ownership. 

In the US, they are charged higher mortgage interest rates and end up with higher-priced loans — disproportionately so, relative to their reliability in paying back their loans.

Still they persist. They often cut their spending and get a second job. They figure out what they want in a house and learn about the home buying process. In the end, they are least likely to say that the process was more difficult than they expected or that they had to compromise on what they wanted most from their homes.

Single people are more generous in their CARING

Who helps their ageing parents? The results of a study of nearly 5,500 pairs of older parents and their grown sons and daughters were unambiguous: No matter whether you are looking at Blacks or whites, sons or daughters, whether help is given at all or how many hours of help are given, the results are the same: the single sons and daughters help more than the coupled sons and daughters.

The greater caring provided by single people is not limited to the help they give to their parents. When other people need the kind of caretaking that can go on for months or even more, single people are there. A representative national sample of 9,000 British adults found that more single people than married ones had regularly looked after someone, for at least 3 months, who were sick, disabled, or elderly.

Is marriage a greedy institution?

Sociologist Naomi Gerstel, who has made some of the most significant myth-busting contributions to the study of single and married people’s social ties, published an important article, “Rethinking families and community: The colour, class, and centrality of extended family ties.”

In it, she explained what she means when she says that marriage is a greedy institution (short version: “…marriage reduces kinship, community, and even the vibrancy of public life”). She also made the case for why it matters that marriage is so greedy:

“Marriage clearly has troublesome implications for the community that are often overlooked. As the population ages, the greediness of marriage deprives more elderly parents — who, ironically, have often pressed their children to marry — of the help and support that they want and need. Marriage can also generate excessive burdens on those who are single, as they are expected to provide the care that their married siblings do not. Although marriage is greedy across race and class, because those with fewer economic resources are more likely to rely on extended kin, this is for them a particularly costly outcome. Thus, not only is the focus on marriage a narrow vision, but it may actually detract from the very resources — rooted outside the nuclear family and marriage — on which Americans depend.”

Bottom line

The evidence is starting to seem overwhelming. With just one consistent exception (married people give more to church groups), single people are more generous with their time, their money, and their caring than married people are.

But it shouldn’t matter. As I will explain in the second part of this two-part article, single people have nothing to prove.


This article was first published here.

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Bella DePaulo
Bella DePaulo (PhD, Harvard) has been described as “America’s foremost thinker and writer on the single experience.” Her TEDx talk, “What no one ever told you about people who are single,” has been viewed more than a million times. With her writing appearing in high-profile publications, Bella is increasingly globally recognised not only for her expertise and knowledge of the single experience but also because of the links she makes between single life, living alone and spending time in solitude. We are delighted Bella is a Solo Living contributor.

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