How Good is Being Alone?

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I was reading the review of a book the other day. All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by journalist Rebecca Traister traces the history and the changing role of single women in our history. According to the Census, there are now more single women than married. How did that happen?

The status of women, families and marriage is undergoing dramatic change in our society. Here is an interview with Traister where she points out some of the most significant demographic changes that she has written about in her book. An important fact she points out:

One of the most startling statistics is that today only 20 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 are married, and that compares to 60 percent in 1960. The other figure that I find very startling, in part because it was so resilient for so long, is the median age of first marriage for women. From the time they started recording it — which was 1890 — until 1980, that median age of first marriage for women fluctuated only between 20 and 22. … In 1990 it jumped to over 23, which is a huge jump from having been in that small range for so long. Today, for women, it is over 27. So if you’re just looking at the sort of historical picture, there’s this relatively flat line for almost 100 years and now there’s not just a jump over that line, but way over that line.

I’m a sociologist. When I see changes like this I want to know about what’s happening in other dimensions of our society. There’s an interconnection between all things. Higher levels of education for women, a transforming service/information economy, higher income equality for women, shrinking size of family, more family debt, higher levels of choice in all areas of life, exploding access to social media…phenomena like these all have an influence and even causal effect on why changes occur in marriages and families.

There’s so much changing all around us. Of course we will see effects of these changes in places like our relationships and institutions like family.

We are studying Genesis in my Sunday School class. God proclaims everything he makes to be good. Then he creates man and sees that he is alone and declares that this is not good.

Our society is now trying to figure out all sorts of ways to solve this eternal problem. Marriage used to be the best solution. Now only half of adults live with a spouse, the other  half are cohabiting, living alone or are in some other arrangement. 40% of cohabiters break up within five years.

It seems that we are trying to piece together fragments and shadows of something we know to be better. What we have ended up with are too many people alone – for whatever reason. And that is still not good.

“The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!”  -Edith Wharton

About Randy Wilson

Professor of Sociology at Houston Baptist University I read, think and write about religion and culture in the United States. It's very interesting and very complicated but incredibly exciting. For many years I have been trying to figure out how people learn best (my students and myself). The classes I teach are always in a state of experimentation - trying to reorganize around what students bring to the table and where we have to go.

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