Watch just about any romantic comedy or talk to your married friends and you’ll see that single life is wrapped in stigma. As the stereotype goes, single people would be much better off if only they got married.
As sociologist Eric Klinenberg writes in his book, Going Solo, when discussed publicly, the rise of living alone is often presented as an unmitigated social problem and a sign of diminished public life.
But not everybody thinks this way. In the US, fewer people are getting married, and young Americans are putting off marriage more than ever before.
In 1962, half of 21-year-olds and 90% of 30-year-olds had been married at least once. In 2014, only 8% of 21-year-olds and 55% of 30-year-olds had been married. According to Bloomberg, single Americans are now the majority.
“For decades social scientists have been worrying that our social connections are fraying, that we’ve become a society of lonely narcissists,” Klinenberg tells The New York Times. “I’m not convinced.”
And neither are a number of researchers. These studies begin to unpack the question of how being single affects your success:
Single people tend to be more social: Research suggests that, compared to married people, Americans who have always been single are more likely to support and stay in touch with their family and are more likely to help, encourage, and socialise with friends and neighbors.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Time Use Survey, single Americans spend on average 12 minutes a day staying in touch with other people by calling, emailing, or mailing them. Married people spend on average 7.8 minutes a day keeping in touch.
Klinenberg explains that, despite extraordinary external pressure that can lead to self-doubt, being single doesn’t condemn someone to a life of feeling lonely or isolated.
“On the contrary, the evidence suggests that people who live alone compensate by becoming more socially active than those who live with others, and that cities with high numbers of singletons enjoy a thriving public culture,” he writes.
Single people also tend to have more time to themselves: Klinenberg also believes that, in the age of expanding digital media and growing connectedness, being single offers a clear advantage: more restorative solitude.
More alone time helps people discover who they are and what gives their life meaning and purpose, he explains. “Living alone helps us pursue sacred modern values — individual freedom, personal control, and self-realization — whose significance endures from adolescence to our final days,” Klinenberg writes.
Single people tend to spend more time on leisure: Whether conducted in solitude or with other people, singles tend to spend more time on overall leisure activities than married people. According to the BLS, single people spend on average 5.56 hours a day on overall leisure activities, compared to married people, who spend an average 4.87 hours a day on leisure.
Broken down even further, single people spend on average about 3 minutes more a day participating in sports, exercise, and recreation than married people, about 16 minutes more a day watching TV, and about 15 minutes more a day playing games and on leisurely computer use.
Single people have fewer legal liabilities: As Your Money editor Libby Kane points out, marrying someone makes you legally responsible for their financial missteps, whether that means assuming equal responsibility for their debt (“You owe how much in student-loan debt?!”) or becoming a part of cases filed against them.
Being single results in a pay premium for women: A recent study conducted by W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, and Robert Lerman, an economics professor at American University, suggests that women see bigger salaries when they’re single compared to their married counterparts.
While the study authors did not consider these findings statistically significant, single women between 28 and 30 years old earn $1,349 more per year in individual income compared to their married counterparts. And single women between 44 and 46 years old make $1,465 more than married women of the same age range.
Single men tend to work fewer hours than married men: The same study authors also found that single men between 28 and 30 work 441 fewer hours outside the home per year than do their married peers, while men between 44 and 46 work 403 fewer hours if they are single.
Single people tend to exercise more: Various studies point to the effect your single status can have on your health.
Researchers from the University of Maryland found that men and women between the ages of 18 and 64 who had never been married tended to exercise more each week than those who were either married or divorced.
Another study found that single men were 25% less likely to be overweight or obése compared to married men.