The stigma of “Singlism”: ever-single women’s perceptions of their social environment

“I’m a loser, I’m not married, let’s just all look at me”: ever-single women’s perceptions of their social environment

From Journal of Family Issues

The growing numbers of individuals marrying later or not marrying at all, combined with high divorce rates, have resulted in a growing number of adults who will live a considerable portion of their adult lives as singles. Despite this trend, recent empirical investigations suggest that singles face a particular form of stigma and discrimination, termed “Singlism”.  This reflects a pervasive ideology of marriage and family, manifested in everyday thoughts, interactions, laws, and social policies that favor couples over singles. The implication is that individuals who have a partner are happier, more adjusted, and lead more fulfilling lives. This study examines the complexity of being never married past the median age of marriage in contemporary society, raises new questions, and offers an enhanced understanding regarding singlehood and the Standard North American Family (SNAF) ideology.


Despite growing numbers of singles, the idealization of marriage and child rearing remains strong, pervasive, and largely unquestioned. Guided by life course perspective, the purpose of this article was to examine familial and societal messages women receive when not married by their te 20s to mid-30s. Using descriptive phenomenological method, the authors conducted 32 interviews with 10 middle-class, ever-single women. Respondents’ social environments were characterized by pressure to confirm to the conventional life pathway. Pressure was manifested in women feeling both highly visible and invisible. Specifically, women’s social worlds included (a) awareness of the changing reality as they became older (e.g., changing pool of eligible men, pregnancy risks), (b) reminders that they were on a different life path (i.e., visibility) through others’ inquires and “triggers” (e.g., weddings), and (c) displacement in their families of origin (i.e., invisibility). The authors discuss the visible/invisible paradox, which appeared to be pronounced at their life stage.

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Article details
Title: “I’m a loser, i’m not married, let’s just all look at me”: ever-single women’s perceptions of their social environment
From:Journal of Family Issues  July 2011 vol. 32 no. 7 online 20 January
Authors: Elizabeth A. Sharp and Lawrence Ganong
DOI: 10.1177/0192513X10392537




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