COLUMBIA, Mo. - Although the number of single women has increased, the stigma associated with being single at the age of mid-30's has not diminished, according to the researchers of University of Missouri. Approximately 40 percent of adults were single in 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

We found that never-married women's social environments are characterized by pressure to conform to the conventional life pathway, said Larry Ganong, co-chair of Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Human Environmental Sciences.

According to Ganong, this pressure was manifested in women feeling highly visible and invisible.

Heightened visibility came from feelings of exposure in situations such as bouquet tosses at weddings. These events brought about unwanted, intrusive questions.

Whereas invisibility came from assumptions made by others, assumptions that they were married and had children or when they had to justify their singlehood. These interactions made them feel that their actual lives weren't important or went unnoticed.

Specifically, single women's social worlds include:

  • Awareness of shifting reality as they become older; for example, the shrinking pool of eligible men and increased pregnancy risks.
  • Reminders that they are on different life paths than most women when others inquire about their single status and during events, including social gatherings and weddings.
  • Feelings of insecurity and displacement in their families of origin when parents and siblings remark about their singlehood and make jokes or rude comments.

The visibility and invisibility factors were impacted by age, according to Ganong. The mid-20's through mid-30's is a time of intense contemplation and concern for single women regarding their future family trajectories. Women older than 35 tend to be content with being single and don't express as much dissatisfaction as do younger women. Women ages 25-35 felt the most stigma, which may be attributed to the fact that being single is more acceptable before age 25. After reaching that age, they feel more scrutinized by friends, family members and others.

Mainstream media also enforce these ideas, Ganong said. For example, shows like 'Sex and the City,' which portray female protagonists who are hyper-focused on finding men, and end with the majority of those characters getting married, are popular.

Ganong has a joint appointment in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing. The study will be published in the Journal of Family Issues.