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Health & Wellness

Single ladies: You might be healthier and happier than married friends

Carrie Bradshaw’s search for “The One” kept viewers captivated for six seasons. The “Friends” finale ended with five out of the six main characters married — or on their way to the altar. The upcoming “Gilmore Girls” reboot is surrounded by rumors about whether or not Lorelai is married (and having a baby?).

The message all of these shows, and let’s face it, society, send is pretty clear: Get married or you’ll wind up sad and lonely (and probably sitting on the couch, eating a pint of Ben & Jerry's).

Well, according to a new meta-analysis of past studies by social psychologist Bella DePaulo, that “conventional” wisdom couldn’t be further from the truth.

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"I've been single all of my life and I love it," DePaulo told TODAY. "Yet at social events, as a single person, I've always been treated as lesser than — and after learning that my single friends have repeatedly been treated the same way, I decided to try to figure out why, exactly."

DePaulo presented her findings Friday at the American Psychological Association’s 124th Annual Convention.

The major takeaway was this: Single people are more connected to their parents, siblings and friends — and (gasp!) might actually be happier than married couples.

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And, while we’re breaking old, traditional clichés — according to DePaulo, people are choosing to be single because they want to be, not because they haven’t found “The One.”

"There are people who thrive on solitude and get important benefits from it like spirituality, creativity and rejuvenation. They're not single because they have 'baggage' or 'issues,''" DePaulo explained.

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In her research, DePaulo located tens of thousands of studies done on marriage. Yet over the past 30 years, she could only locate 814 studies about “never married” or “single” people. Which is particularly surprising after learning that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 47 percent of Americans over 18 are unmarried (107 million people) up from 1970, when just 17 percent of Americans were not married (38 million people).

These studies on unmarried folk had significant findings: “Research comparing people who have stayed single with those who have stayed married shows that single people have a heightened sense of self-determination and they are more likely to experience ‘a sense of continued growth and development as a person,’” DePaulo wrote.

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Here’s another tidbit to take to your marriage-pushing grandmother: Self-sufficient single people were less likely to experience negative emotions. And according to DePaulo's research, they might just be healthier, too:

  • According to a Canadian study of more than 11,000 people, lifelong single people reported better overall health than married people.
  • In a study of over 30,000 Italians, lifelong singles had lower or no different rates of cancer compared to those currently married.
  • An Australian study of more than 10,000 women in their 70s found that lifelong single women without children had the fewest diagnoses of major illnesses, the healthiest body mass index and were least likely to smoke, compared to married women, or woman who had been married in the past.

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What about that recent study that found that being married may improve your odds of surviving a heart attack? Well, according to DePaulo, studies like these don't take into account the myriad of benefits that go along with being married. Those benefits aren't offered to unmarried people.

"People who marry get access to more than 1,000 federal benefits and protections, many of them financial. With greater economic advantage comes greater access to many other advantages, such as better health care," DePaulo wrote.

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According to DePaulo, these studies also don't take into account the large population of people who were once married, but are now widowed, divorced or separated — and sometimes, they're in worse health.

There's one final myth DePaulo wants to debunk: Single people are not self centered.

"They actually do a lot of volunteering and aging parents are more likely to get help from single people than their married kids," DePaulo said.

DePaulo hopes her extensive research will change the conversation around being single and reverse the decades-long stigma. For her, it was heartening to see that the research supported how she has felt all of her life: Being single is wonderful.

"I like to say if you like your single life, live it joyfully and apologetically," DePaulo advised. That's advice we all can take to the bank, married or not!

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