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Stereotypes of Singles: A Cross-Cultural Comparison

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image of International Journal of Comparative Sociology
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Despite the loss of functions, the married lifestyle is regarded as the social norm. Various negative explanations have been proposed for lifestyles which are deviant to this expectation. The result has been the rise of stereotypes as descriptions for the lifestyle of singles. Two of the more prominent stereotypes evolve out of this idea of lacking a mate. That is, singles are perceived from either the swinging perspective or the pathological one of loneliness, and sometimes of both at once. The present study examines these dependent variables in order to note to what degree they are part of the behavior of singles. As a means of noting whether the findings had wider meaning, the study was replicated in two other Western countries undergoing similar demographic trends, Australia and New Zealand. Similar procedures for collecting the data were utilized in all three countries - a probability proportionate to size cluster sample was contacted in the evening or on weekends in order to ensure the inclusion of all desired categories. Since the stereotypes imply behavior which is attributable to singles vis-a-vis marrieds, the sample consisted of both singles and marrieds. The studies generally support the stereotype of singles expressing more aspects of loneliness than the marrieds. Singles were more likely to note such loneliness aspects as having no one with whom to share happy and sad moments and in not having anyone with whom to discuss problems. However, this marital status difference was not as noticeable in situations reflecting loneliness. Singles were more likely to not like dining alone and to join organizations to escape loneliness but less likely to be bothered by living alone and being depressed when alone. The stereotype of sexual swinging is upheld if the stereotype merely deals with singles having more sexual partners than marrieds. If, however, it implies casual sex with large numbers of partners, then the label is more applicable to the lifestyle of the divorced rather than as a description of singles versus married behavior. This study shows that the two stereotypes examined have a grain of truth but that their application to the total population of single people is more misleading than revealing.


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