Bella DePaulo Ph.D. is a social psychologist who draws from social science data to challenge the stereotypes of people who are single. She has published more than 100 scientific papers and has written for publications such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Time magazine. DePaulo continues her research into system justification theory and singlism – discrimination against people who choose to not maintain a serious coupled relationship (i.e. marriage).
System justification theory is based on the premise that there is a psychological motive to defend and justify the status quo. People want to believe in the legitimacy of the way things are. The sense that the prevailing system, however flawed, is a good and fair one, lends predictability to our lives. It allows us to carry on with our daily lives with a measure of confidence and hopefulness.
Defenders of the status quo tend to be:
• People who have high needs for order, structure and closure. They don’t like ambiguity and they like to make decisions quickly and then stand by those decisions.
• People who see the world as a dangerous place.
• People who are anxious about their own mortality.
• People who are not especially curious or open to change or to new experiences.
People have a set of beliefs that offer us meaningfulness and a clear guide through a potentially confusing set of life options: If we can all just agree that getting married (or seriously coupled) makes you a happier, healthier, and maybe even morally superior person, then we all know how to construct our lives and win the approval and respect of others. The mythology creates order out of chaos.
DePaulo reveals that beliefs in myths about marriage aren’t like any old beliefs. People want to believe that they are not myths, they are truths. Not everyone is invested in all of the prevailing myths, but among those who are, the defence of them can be tenacious. Defending the prevailing myths about marriage and married people is a way of defending the status quo. The best way of clinging to those beliefs is to criticize any challenges to them.
Research from Israel, the U.S.A. and Germany supports system justification theory, indicating that an individual’s single status can often elicit hostility from married people. It suggests singles who like their single lives are challenging social norms, and people who do follow the norms don’t like this. Basically, we are rocking the boat.
Further, the research notes that the people most likely to insist that coupled people are superior are those who are insecure about their own relationship abilities. So that’s when people most embrace myths about marriage and coupling – when their own relationships are threatened.