January 14, 2010

Over 40, Single, and...Happy

People who have never married are as basically as well-adjusted as those who are. But their autonomy has a price.

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 Correlational study 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.

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