When it comes to building communities of interconnected friends and family, how does marital status influence the links between people? Who interacts more with their neighbors, friends, and family– married people or their single counterparts?
Singles are often stereotyped as lonely, sitting at home by themselves (or maybe with a few cats). In contrast, marriage is often thought of as the foundation of our communities, functioning as a sort of social glue. However, for married people, husbands or wives may have to balance giving time to their partners at the expense of spending time with other social connections. Singles, on the other hand, have time to socialize with their friends and families, and therefore may be more connected. So, which is it?
In a recent study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships,1 researchers examined this question using data from two large representative samples collected in the United States as part of the General Social Survey (data collected between 2000 and 2012) and the National Survey of Families and Households (1994-1996). Together, these two studies consisted of approximately 15,000 people. The researchers compared currently married individuals to people that were not currently married (i.e., never had been married or previously divorced) on their level of social connections, which was defined as how much time they spent socializing with friends, and the extent to which they gave and received support from friends and family.
The results of this study show that those who are not married have more contact with their family, friends, and neighbors than the married. Importantly, these analyses were able to rule out other potential influences besides marital status, such as age, having children, education, income, ethnicity, and geographic distance from family. So the effects of marital status are, for example, not due to the fact that married people are more likely to have kids (because having kids tends to limit free time to spend with friends, etc.).
The authors speculate these findings may represent several possible dynamics. For example, given the romanticized few of marriage, people may believe that their husbands or wives are their soulmates and should fulfill all of their social needs. Alternatively, because they may live alone, single people may need to take efforts to meet their social needs and actively seek out interactions with friends and family, whereas married individuals’ social needs are met without relying on interactions with friends and family.
The bottom line is that there different ways of being connected to others and meeting our social needs, whether it’s from romantic partners, friends, neighbors, or family. Just because someone isn’t in a romantic relationship, doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have an active social life.
1Sarkisian, N., & Gerstel, N. (2016). Does singlehood isolate or integrate? Examining the link between marital status and ties to kin, friends, and neighbors. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 33, 361-384.
Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.