With 51% of Britain’s population registered as unmarried (ONS, 2012), half of adult Americans currently unattached (Bureau of Labor Statistics), and over half of the households in Paris, the city of love, made up by only-ones having no significant other seems to be today’s latest trend. Yet the world isn’t quite the singles’ oyster; when it comes to being single, society is still lagging behind, suggests a new study published in the Journal of Marketing Management.

The research exposes how the unattached negotiate their position within a society and a marketplace where heterosexual relationships rule, revealing powerful gender stereotypes still have the upper hand in today’s world.

Drawing on Julia Kristeva’s and Judith Butler’s works, the academics claim singles are stigmatised as the ‘abject other’ because they do not conform to dominant heterogender arrangements. They go on to suggest that

the market has also failed to understand the commercial experience of singles by creating an imagery of ‘the good life’ centred on heterosexual couples and nuclear families.

To support the theoretical investigation, the team carried out a series of active interviews with 14 singles adults, aged 22-56, and currently residing in the UK. Findings highlighted how being single was much more than about having no significant other, with participants feeling alienated from society as well as the marketplace, and perceiving themselves as failed subjects. This appeared to be particularly true for unattached women who felt negatively judged by a society wanting to trap them into the conventional roles of wives and mothers. Interestingly, some participants rejected the heteronormative framework and, by using neutral descriptors – e.g. singleness instead of singlehood – they were able to reclaim their subjectivity on an equal footing with married people.

This material originally appeared on the Taylor & Francis Newsroom site in October 2015, and is reposted with their permission.

Read the original research article online: Lai, A-L., Lim, M., & Higgins, M. (2015). The abject single: exploring the gendered experience of singleness in Britain. Journal of Marketing Management, 31(15-16), 1559-1582.

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