The number of single people has increased over the last several decades. However, there is still something of a stigma attached to being single. Society seems to still be geared towards couples and families as the ‘normal’ social unit. Single people are often overlooked and some sociologists suggest single people may be discriminated against.
This is according to a recent Analysis podcast on Radio 4.
The main reason for the increase in single people is women’s liberation. Women now have higher levels of educational achievement than men and are more likely to be in work. Women are more likely to choose to live alone, and more likely to seek divorce. Of divorced people, men are twice as likely than women to recouple. Many more older women live alone than men.
Are single people discriminated against?
Some of the ways single people may be discriminated against include:
It is more expensive to live alone. SIngle person households spend 92% of their disposable income on necessities such as housing costs, food and bills. This compares to only 83% of disposable income spent by couples.
Letting agencies tend to discriminate against single people. They prefer couples because there are two incomes coming in, which they think is more secure.
Employers and employees expect more from single people as workers. The default view is that single people have fewer commitments outside of work than people with families. Thus it is single people who are expected to work odd hours or at the weekends if required.
Many holidays are geared towards couples, with single rooms often being the most inferior.
Getting engaged, married, or having children are seen as social markers of progress. Being single is just kind of overlooked.
You rarely hear single people talked about in the news, and they are rarely the focus of social policy. There is a lot of talk and policies aimed at helping families, for example, but rarely anything for single people.
An exception to this was during lockdown. The government announced that people living alone could form support bubbles with people in other households. This was one of the few times single people were explicitly mentioned in social policy.
Single women living alone are seen in a negative light. We have the spinster stereotype for example.
All of this is a problem when single people are a diverse group. There are many routes into singledom.
One of the ways social policy could adapt to single people is by allowing single workers time off to look after friends or pets.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This material is mainly relevant to the families and households module.