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Well Adjusted, Over 40, and Single
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Well Adjusted, Over 40, and Single


Challenging the convention that there’s something wrong with anyone who isn’t married by the time he or she is 40, a new study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggests that over−40 singles are just as well−adjusted as their married counterparts – in most ways, anyway.

Jamila Bookwala and her team analyzed data from more than 1,500 individuals (ages 40−74) taking part in the National Survey of Midlife Development. Of the participants, 105 had never been married, while the rest said they were married. Bookwala compared the never−married individuals to the married individuals in several ways.

The researchers found a particularly strong correlation in the never−married group – the higher these individuals scored on the psychological resources measure, the better their emotional well−being.

“If you look at never−marrieds who are high on mastery — they feel like they are in the driver's seat and in control of their lives — and high on self−sufficiency — they know how to take care of themselves — they actually have better emotional well−being than married people,” says Bookwala, a professor of psychology at Lafayette College.

The results that Bookwala is referring to have to do with a measure called psychological resource. In the study, this measure was comprised of three separate factors: personal mastery (how much the individual feels like he or she is in control of things overall), agency (how much one is able to focus on oneself), and self−sufficiency (autonomy). The researchers found a particularly strong correlation in the never−married group – the higher these individuals scored on the psychological resources measure, the better their emotional well−being. In fact, their emotional well−being actually rose higher than it did for the married individuals, even if they (the marrieds) scored high on psychological resources, too.

“In that sense, we find our study debunks that myth of something being wrong with the never−married individual,” said Bookwala.

Unfortunately, the study did find a couple of drawbacks to never having been married. The individuals in this group scored lower in overall emotional well−being, and also had fewer social resources – says Bookwala, "[i]n general they tend to report less [perceived] support from families than marrieds.”

She adds that people who are highly self−sufficient may actually be at a disadvantage when it comes to marriage: "[f]or a marriage to work well, you need a certain amount of interdependence.” This may be why some people choose to remain single for the long term – and according to the study, they may be just as happy as the married folks.

January 14, 2010


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(2) Comments have been made

George Williams
There are people who are introverts, non-confrontational and prefer to avoid negotiating with others in the conduct of their lives - and they should remain single (or marry one of their kind). For these people being alone and wishing they weren't is a lesser evil than not being alone and wishing they were.
Posted Wed, May. 23, 2012 at 5:01 pm EDT
I think that being single and being married require different strengths, and different types of emotional intelligence. Ultimately, when you inhabit one state or the other, you must learn to place value on highly contrasting living conditions and experiences, in order to thrive. In a marriage you need to be able to co-operate and share and open up and work through difficult feelings with a partner or else risk alienating him/her. There's a continual connection that requires maintenance in order for the marriage to be judged successful. When single, it often seems to me that our culture expects us ultimately to work through difficult feelings on our own, or we risk alienating the people who supposedly make up our community - friends, coworkers, neighbours, family. We cheer the single friend for appearing to cope without connection - for doing alone what we cheer marrieds for doing together. The expectations a single adult may place on her circle of friends are not the same as the kind of expectations one may articulate to a married partner: and these vary further according to age and experience levels. Teen friendships are much more intense and all-consuming, say, than friendships between women in their 30s and 40s who are busy with work and child-raising. We are actually required to find meaning and to place value on entirely different kinds of social interactions, depending on whether or not we are married/in a committed partnership. Western secular culture doesn't offer many clear educational guidelines for navigating the grey zones between these two states.
Posted Tue, Apr. 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm EDT

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