Researcher Bella DePaulo draws attention to the prejudices and false myths that surround marriage and singleness.

Researcher Bella DePaulo.

“¿Singles Studies? What is that? Well, an area of ​​study that should exist but that does not exist“. These were the first lines of a controversial article published in 2007, in which its author defended the need for more studies to be carried out on a group that, in her opinion, had been ignored by the scientific community: singles.
That researcher was the psychologist Bella DePaulo, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California. DePaulo assured then that without this new perspective, “academics become closed-minded” and argued that diversity was necessary to stop observing the world from a perspective “too masculine, too white or too married“.
DePaulo’s motivation was not only personal, but also based on the evolution of a society where the ways of life are more diverse every day. In 2011 the US Census Bureau reported that, for the first time, the number of households with married people had fallen below half. While in Spain, the number of people living alone increased again last year to exceed 4.5 million (25% of the total), according to the latest data from the National Institute of Statistics.

A world of myths and stereotypes

“Before starting to study the lives of single people, I believed what I saw in the headlines,” explains DePaulo to EL ESPAÑOL. “I thought it was true that people who got married were happier, healthier, and generally better.” However, this psychologist decided one day to investigate further on the subject: “I carefully reviewed and studied the scientific literature and I was surprised by what I found, because the statements about what the data showed were totally exaggerated or simply wrong ”.
That was 20 years ago and since then DePaulo is one of the most visible heads among those trying to demystify the singles way of life. “The myths that have been generated around singleness or marriage are terribly unfair for single people, they only serve to stereotype and stigmatize them, based on false claims, causing some to feel bad about themselves. “
For years dozens of studies have ensured that married people are happier than single or even healthier. According to DePaulo, these messages, repeated in the media, sometimes have a negative effect. “Those myths add to the pressure they feel and they convince them that when they get married, they will be happier and healthier and that their whole life will improve, something that, in fact, is not likely to happen ”.

Married people: no happier …

DePaulo reports that many social scientists who have studied marriage have long believed that getting married turns depressed single people into mentally healthy spouses. “Researchers often compare people who are married to people who are not., and if married people are better off, they conclude that if single people get married, they will be happier and healthier too ”, DePaulo explains.
However, one of the big problems with some of the studies that are done with married people is that they are systematically biased, since they only include couples who are currently married. “When only currently married people are included in the marriage group, everyone who gets married, has a terrible experience and gets divorced is being ignored“, Assures DePaulo.
In Western countries, more than 40% of marriages end in divorce, a figure that can exceed 60% in countries like Spain. “It is obvious that many of these people did not become happier or healthier as a result of their marriage, in fact, most of them ended up being less happy than when they were single,” says DePaulo.
The recommendation of this psychologist is to do long-term follow-up studies: “studying the same people over time, and analyzing what happens when they go from being single to getting married, or from being married to divorcing.” DePaulo explains that these types of studies are more precise and that their results “show that people do not get to be happier or healthier when they get married. “In the best of cases, the psychologist explains,” they enjoy a brief honeymoon effect, “that is, they feel a little happier at first,” but then they are so happy or so unhappy again like when they were single ”.

… no less depressive

Another of DePaulo’s great workhorses is that of the supposed loneliness of single people and how this situation could affect their psychological well-being. As in the case of happiness, there is also a belief among the research community that single people are more likely to fall into depression.
This is how psychologists Matthew Wright and Susan Brown thought, who last year published a study in Journal of Marriage and Family. The starting assumption of these two researchers was that married people would enjoy greater psychological well-being than single people without a partner. But nevertheless, your results did not indicate this.
The results obtained by Wright and Brown showed that the fact that the women were married, living with a partner, dating someone or without a partner, did not make any statistically significant difference regarding depression, stress, or loneliness. For men, however, the results indicated that the situation of those who live with a partner, whether they are married or not, is slightly better than that of single people, with or without a partner.
On the fact that partner status does not matter much when it comes to being happy, DePaulo points out that this does not mean that social ties and interpersonal commitments do not matter. “Of course they matter, men and women with more social support from friends and family suffer less depression and less stress“, Explains this psychologist.
Its objective is that prejudices about a sector of society that is increasingly important are eliminated and that society is able to adapt to the changes that are coming. In an article published in the New York Times, DePaulo assured that “there are many ways to live and love. The sentimental image of mom, dad, and the kids gathered around the home has had its day. We will not all form that family nuclear”.