In Anglo-American culture, the terms spinster and old maid for women, and confirmed bachelor for men, may have become outdated, yet their stereotypical meanings persist.Single women particularly may be seen in a negative light, perhaps because expectations remain strong that women will fulfil the nurturing and caring roles most often associated with being married—that of wife, mother, grandmother, and care provider for other family members.It is difficult to obtain accurate statistics, but the evidence suggests that gays and lesbians comprise between 4 and 6 percent of adults in the United States, Canada, and other Western countries.
However, regardless of their commitment to a significant partner, these relationships are outside the boundaries of traditional heterosexual marriage, and these individuals are, by societal definition, never married.
The involuntary and stable singles tend to be dissatisfied with their singlehood, but feel it is permanent.
Just as the age at first marriage has increased over the past few decades, so too has the proportion of adults living together outside of traditional marriage, as well as the number of men and women who are delaying or forgoing marriage. Census Bureau (1999) reports that between 19, the percentage of people who had never married rose from 22 percent to 28 percent.
This has resulted in a great number of men and women spending a significant amount of their adult years single. For adults between the ages of thirty and thirty-four, the increase during this period has been from 6 percent to 29 percent for men, and from 9 percent to 21 percent for women.
With age, the percentage of the population that has never married decreases.
In Canada and the United States, between 5 and 10 percent of older adults have never been married.
However, with increased age, the likelihood of marrying diminishes, and the meaning of singlehood often changes as it is seen as a less expected but more permanent state.
The never married in later life are subject to stereotypes that portray older adults in general, as well as those associated with individuals who have failed to marry (Rubinstein 1987).
Although never married men during this period had more freedom than never married women, they were generally viewed as social outcasts or societal threats (Chudacoff 1999).
During the 1970s, several social factors converged to create a new and more positive recognition of singlehood: more women in higher education, expanding career and job opportunities for women, and increased availability and acceptable of birth control.
At the same time, between 17 in parts of the United States and Europe, singlehood was often seen as a respectable alternative to marriage for women, if these women were willing to devote their lives to the service of others (Chambers-Schiller 1984).