Remaking Social Work with Children and Families

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How often did they give rides, help with errands, or pitch in with housework or repairs?

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Families of Choice Are Remaking America

Did they also offer advice, encouragement, or emotional support? Did they receive similar support in return?

In every measure, single people as a group spend more time connecting with and helping others than their married counterparts. Singles are more likely to do the same for their parents and siblings. They also devote more time and resources to caring for aging relatives or friends who are sick, disabled, or elderly. In cities and towns, single people are cultivators of urban culture.

Compared to married folk, they participate in more civic groups and public events. They go out to dinner more often and take more music and art classes. Single men also tend to be more generous with their money. Longitudinal studies, which follow people over many years, show these dynamics unfolding over time.


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One such study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in , enlisted more than 2, representative Americans under age 50 who were not married or living with a partner cohabitation , and then tracked them for six years. Those who wedded or entered into a cohabiting relationship, meanwhile, became more insular.

They had less contact with their parents and siblings, and spent less time with friends than when they were single. After more than three years of marriage or cohabitation, with or without kids, couples were still less connected. Other research shows that when married people get divorced, their social networks expand again.

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There is some evidence that romantic coupling also comes at the expense of other core relationships. In a recent study, the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar who famously estimated that is about the number of meaningful relationships a person can have at any one time surveyed people ranging in age from 18 to The results, though far from definitive, suggest that when a singleton couples up, his or her lover replaces two former confidants. Many single people maintain their diverse social ties even as they age, bucking the stereotype that singlehood dooms you to die alone. Consider Lucy Whitworth, a retired teacher and single mother-of-none living amongst gardens and fruit trees in an intentional community in California.

When she was diagnosed with cancer at age 68, her friends mobilized. One person helped her make a list of everything she would need to do in the months ahead. Forty-eight others—square dance partners, bridge players, fellow volunteers—divvied up the tasks. In five of six countries for which data were available Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the U.

But in another study of to year-old Australians, never-married childless women regularly participated in social groups and were more likely to volunteer than those who were or had previously been married. Perhaps because the experience is often anything but isolating, many elderly singles choose to stay single. Sure, they may have fewer available partners. I n researching my book How We Live Now , I traveled the country talking to people like Dan and Lucy about the people and domestic spaces most important to them.

I met single mothers who live together and share the burdens and joys of child rearing.

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I met elderly friends who share a home as well as meals, chores, and stories— Golden Girls style. I met committed couples who choose to live apart; parents who partnered to raise kids but keep their own relationship platonic; and a single mom whose daughter has 12 Godparents. Family has become a do-it-yourself kit. Or, as the late German sociologist Ulrich Beck put it: Even traditionally coupled people are living more independently than they once did.

A study comparing marriages in with those in found that millennial spouses were less likely to eat together, do chores together, go out for fun together, and have as many mutual friends as did spouses 20 years earlier. Although their social networks may overlap, they are unique. This setup may seem unromantic. But as with singlehood, there may be benefits to pursuing a wider-ranging social life. Other research suggests that people who rely on multiple friends and family members for emotional support cheering up, celebrating, commiserating are more satisfied with their lives than people who lean on just one person.

Not everyone I met during my travels had as many enduring relationships or was as happy as Dan and Lucy. As networked individuals, we have the freedom to design the community we want to live in.

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Bella DePaulo is a project scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara studying the social psychology of singles. Her newest book, How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century , was published in August From the normal family to alternate families to the quest for diversity with interdependence. Journal of Family Issues 22 , Marital status and suicide in the National Longitudinal Mortality Study. Singles in society and in science. Send me a copy Cancel. Request Permissions View permissions information for this article. Article first published online: November 27, ; Issue published: Abstract Full Text References Abstract.

Keywords Philosophy , police , politics , reflection , resistance. Remember me Forgotten your password? Subscribe to this journal. Vol 61, Issue 1, Emmanuel Levinas and social work. Tips on citation download. Classification and its Consequences. A Philosophy of Defiance. Google Scholar , Crossref. Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. Penguin Books first published by Allen Lane Critical Reflections on the Post-Socialist Condition, pp. Epub ahead of print 12 August. Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Penguin Books first published in the USA in Assessing Children in Need and Their Families.