Singles do more for their families and communities than married folks, says an inflammatory new report from a University of Massachusetts sociologist.
Naomi Gerstel penned the paper in celebration of National Unmarried and Singles Week, which showcases the contributions of singletons to society. .
"It wasn't posed as a critique of marriage. It was posed instead as a defence of the unmarried," Dr. Gerstel said in an interview.
Singles, she points out, are a diverse group: some are unmarried but will get hitched one day, others fly solo for life, while others still are divorced or widowed. While many are maligned as selfish, the opposite is in fact true, Dr. Gerstel explains in the report, which pulls data from several large national surveys.
"The unmarried are typically portrayed as unencumbered by family obligations, or even as self-centered individuals who do not help out in the community the way married couples do," she writes in the report, penned for the non-profit Council on Contemporary Families.
Unmarried adults pitch in with their parents more than their married siblings do, they help their neighbours more frequently than married counterparts do and they have more friends – and treat them better than marrieds do.
Unmarried women are the most likely to pitch in with their aging mothers and fathers: "While 68 per cent of married women give help to their parents, 84 per cent of the never married provide such care." Never-married men help plenty too: 67 per cent versus just 38 per cent of husbands.
Unmarried women gab on the phone more with parents and siblings more than wives do, but the difference is "especially dramatic for men," Dr. Gerstel writes. "While many husbands rely on wives to call their relatives, men without wives make the connection themselves."
Singles are also more available to their siblings, "often playing important roles in the lives of their brothers and sisters as well as their nieces and nephews."
And it's not because they don't have a brood of their own to contend with.
"It's not children, it's marriage that matters," Dr. Gerstel said. "The childless married have significantly lower contacts and community involvement than singles without children. ... Marriage is very demanding."
Aside from being familial dynamos, one in five American singles volunteers for community efforts such as serving food and charity fundraising, while marrieds are more likely to offer their time to activities their kids are involved with. Singles are also more politically engaged: Never-married women are more likely than wives to sign petitions and join political gatherings.
Marrieds are too busy hosting dinner parties, watching rom coms and bickering, presumably.