July 2, 2007

Is there a word for animosity toward the unmarried?

Is it just slipping my mind or is there no word for this? I'm looking for a word for the attitude -- something like sexism or homophobia -- to signify hostility toward people for their failure to be married. I don't mean mere discrimination, such as we find in the tax code or employment insurance plans. I mean actual negative feelings toward the disfavored group. And I don't mean the attitude that has to do only with the suspicion that an unmarried person is gay.

I mean something more general that would apply to the way people feel toward someone who remains single for any reason, including the inability to find a suitable partner or an unwillingness to accept monogamy.

If there is no word, do you think it's because there is not general hostility toward the unmarried? But it is helpful to have words to describe phenomena that turn out not to be true, so we can talk about whether it is true. So, if there is not word, can you coin one?

And I don't mean to suggest that there's no hostility toward the married. I think there is. If you have a word for that let me know.


Pogo said...


Ann Althouse said...

I want a word for the attitude, not a word that expresses the attitude. There isn't a word "spinsterism."

"Spinster" is also estricted to women. And it also only refers to women who've never married, not to divorced women and widows who haven't remarried.

steve simels said...

Wow, there's a topic the masses have been clamoring for.

I guess the dormroom bong hits started early today.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

If you are talking about the attitude of married men to unmarried men, perhaps Jealousy is the word your looking for?

SteveR said...

I don't think there is a word. Its perhaps because we don't talk about it much. You know some one who's not married and you know enough about them to be able assume that they are unlucky, difficult, or preoccupied with the "advantages" of being single. Too many reasons to fit under one word.

rhhardin said...


Meade said...


Roost on the Moon said...

Spinster is always used as a negative, but bachelor often is, too. When it's used to describe someone young and virile, it isn't, but it often takes on connotations of rejection and failure when people talk about old bachelors. Martin Amis writes humorously about aging single men "reeking of the batch".

I don't think there is a word for just the attitude. "Family Values" is sometimes used as a euphemism for it. I'd guess that the animosity itself is on the decline, though. 50% divorce rates among boomers have a lot to do with that. People are getting married later and later, if at all.

As the Sublime song says:

Marriage doesn't work in the world today/
It's an institution that is in decay.

I'm not saying lots of people believe that, but it's a concept that is at least floating around in the collective unconscious of the younger generations.

Roost on the Moon said...

Simels, there are not one but two Althosue pop-music threads going right now. Why are you whining about this? Ply your trade.

Bill Harshaw said...

How about the intersection of attitudes about marriage and childbearing--an unwed mother is not a spinster, a married childless couple may be regarded with suspicion as not fully participating in the human drama.

JackDRipper said...

"failure to be married."

Slight bias in the use of the term failure.

As a 40+ year old life long failure I suggest "monophobia".

Any pathologizing or condemnatory term in English general has ism, ist or phobia in it.

Bissage said...

Let's not overlook the obvious: Marriage-ism.

(It would probably sound more impressive in Latin.)

Let's use it in a sentence.

"Susan lost that big promotion because she's single and that's blatant marriageism!"

JetsJetsJets said...

Ann writes:

"I don't mean mere discrimination, such as we find in the tax code or employment insurance plans."

Don't you mean positive discrimination? Being married has cost us thousands annually as a result of being married. The marriage penalty has been reduced but its still present in the AMT, and with other limits/phaseouts such as the limit for a Roth IRA.

As for insurance, perhaps our provider is weird but our coverage for the employee plus one plan is more than double what it would be for employee only.

Ron said...

If unmarried people are having fun, could that be called singul-hilarity?

for the attitude toward the unmarried, how's about unpairedness?

Ron said...

maybe single people who can't or won't get married are un-duoable?

just swingin' the bat, here, ya understand!

Kev said...

As someone on the far side of 35 who has yet to be married (but still believes it will happen, naysayers be damned), I have occasionally had it said about me that there "must be something wrong" with me to have not done so yet, as if I'm failing to uphold my civic duty or something. (People don't actually say these things to my face, mind you, but I hear about it from others.)

I usually shrug off these comments, as the people who are saying them are, more often than not, trapped in less-than ideal marriages themselves, probably because they felt that they had to be married and ended up with the wrong person. Me, I'm content to wait for Ms. Right.

Gahrie said...

I am 42 and never married. Most of my male friends now call me the smartest man they know. Most of my female friends are constantly trying to set me up. Another female friend who is 36 and never married keeps threatening to get me drunk and take me to Las Vegas.

Ann Althouse said...

Roost on the Moon: "Spinster is always used as a negative..."

You haven't read enough Mary Daly:

“Spinster: noun A woman whose occupation is to Spin to participate in the whirling movement of creation; one who has chosen her Self, who defines her Self by choice neither in relation to children nor to men; one who is Self-identified; a whirling dervish, spiraling in New Time/ Space. see spinning.”

“Spinning:1: Gyn/Ecological creation; Dis-covering the lost threads of connectedness within the cosmos and repairing this thread in the process; whirling and twirling the threads of Life on the axis of the Spinsters’ own be-ing
2: turning quickly on one’s heels; moving counterclockwise; whirling away in all directions from the death march of patriarchy."

corporate law drudge said...


Mike said...

I remember "dinks (dual income, no kids") from the 80s. Not quite what you're looking for, I know.

Galvanized said...

The negative terms that come to my mind are "hermit" or "recluse." I've heard these used even for someone who is active in the community but retires to himself/herself at home.

Maybe the term "single" is, in itself, derogatory, as if to say that someone who is unattached through marriage is alone in life and has no meaningful connections to anyone. Yeah, I think that "single" is bad enough.

Of course, "single" is also an economic term, so, yeah, there is probably a need for a new one. Maybe we haven't come up with another one because we keep expecting their status to change at any minute. LOL

Roost on the Moon said...

Ann, re: Spinster

It's a neat attempt, and I support it whole-heartedly, but I agree with the first commenter on that page; it hasn't emerged from its feminist womb into the bright light of common usage.

Anthony said...

On various fora over the years, this idea has come up, and I've seen it written about in dead tree media; can't remember where exactly though. Usually, it was from the point of view of a single who was getting tired of always being the one whom coworkers called on to sacrifice -- work late or on weekends or whatever -- because, well, he/she didn't have a family that needed attention.

Mostly, marrieds look upon singles with a mixture of pity and envy.

Sloanasaurus said...

I think it depends. For example, I see someone who refuses to get married because they cannot say monogomous as someone who is a cultural leach. Meaning they feed off the benefits of a conservative culture,

Pogo said...

There lacks such a word for men, divorced women, and widows because it has never was as meaningful for these groups to marry (a proxy for failure to reproduce), in Western culture anyway.

In contrast, despite the Daly definition, a woman not married by a certain age in the Victorian era was deemed worthless, often making her an outcast. From a 1903 dictionary, this definition of spinster: "A woman of evil life and character; - so called from being forced to spin in a house of correction."

But there isn't a name for the attitude itself now because the term is no longer used, so there is not a group of spinsters being called spinsters to complain about a term they dislike.

In contrast, animosity toward gays has a term because it exists. A word for the attitude requires a Marxist class approach to language and both the term and the "condition" were gone long before such linguistic deconstruction could occur.

Christy said...

And I don't mean to suggest that there's no hostility toward the married. I think there is.

Ann, I'm curious as to why you think there is a hostility toward the married. I confess that in my youth I thought of marriage as a form of death, but was never hostile towards those who were married. And I've never noticed hostility towards my own spouseless, spawnless self.

Revenant said...

Is there a word for animosity toward the unmarried?

Ed Redneck called it: the word you're searching for is "jealousy". Married people -- and, these days, men especially -- give up an enormous amount of freedom and gain little in return.

Paul said...

Clearly, the attitude certainly exists, as it has its own lexicon of contemptuous terminology and images ("spinster" "She's got six cats!" "commitment issues").

How much of it is actual, direct resentment or pity, and how much of it is self-serving (i.e. disparaging the "road not taken" to validate married people's own choices) is less clear.

Ruth Anne Adams said...


There's no judgment placed on the state of being alone; the 'ism' is for those who criticize solitariness.

My single friend often bows out of invites, citing the "Noah's Ark" defense: that's meant for two-somes.

Meade said...

marital chauvinism

Adrian said...

"Better beggar woman and single than Queen and married." Animosity toward the married is so very Elizabethan. I don't know about the reverse though. Remember that story a while back about straight couples who felt discriminated against by gays, who were calling them 'breeders'?

dbp said...

My view toward singles depends on their age, but once they have gotten to a point where they should have had ample opportunity to find a partner--the attitude is generally negative and in three categories: Envy, pity and scorn.

Envy, because they are not tied-down by the resposibilities spouse and kids. They have plenty of free time and money and can go on exotic trips, like to Berlin.

Pity, because they must have to endure much lonlyness and don't get to enjoy the comfort and joy of family.

Scorn, because they are not "putting anything back" into society by creating and preparing the next generation.

But really, mostly it is envy and pity.



I of course (up till now) have kept these attitudes to myself. It was pretty common (when I was working at a University) for folks to be openly hostile to people who reproduce: The theory being that we are overpopulating the world and consuming more than our share of tax revinues (public schools & etc.)

clint said...


On standardized forms, they usually ask for "race", "sex", and "marital status"...

So, by analogy to racism and sexism, how about "maritalism"?

On the upside, single people can be just as maritalist against married folk as married people can be against the unwed. Heck, the term's large enough to encompass irrational bias against the divorced or even against widows.

It has the added bonus that it's almost impossible not to see "materialist" the first time you read it.

blake said...

How about "selfish"?

I'm gonna bathe and shave
And dress myself
And eat solo every night

Unplug the phone
Sleep alone
Stay way out of sight

Sure, it's kind of lonely
Yeah, it's sort of sick
Being your own one and only
Is a selfish, dirty trick

--Loudon Wainwright, "One Man Guy"

Revenant said...

How about "selfish"?

That doesn't make much sense. As a single person I contribute more to society and receive less.

John Stodder said...

I don't think there's a real issue here. The married and unmarried view each other through lenses of their own personal experiences with the status they have chosen. If unhappily married, then singledom looks good. If happily married, then they feel sorry for singles. Happy singles who watch married couples fall out think, "thank God I'm not like them." Unhappy singles watch married couples bill and coo and it accentuates their perceived loneliness.

This is a divide that's more like urban vs. suburban dwellers. You made your decision, you basically like your decision, but sometimes you have regrets.

Revenant said...

Pity, because they must have to endure much lonlyness and don't get to enjoy the comfort and joy of family.

That actually underlines what I find odd about marriage -- the notion that your whole social life must be tied up in one other person, that you cannot have satisfying human relationships that do not involve that person and/or your children with that person. Maybe it is true for some people, but to me it just seems... weirdly needy.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Revenant, you may contibute more, but only financially. The Shakers kind of had a longevity problem based on their failure to procreate, and any society that has that same failure will eventually disappear.

blake said...

"That doesn't make much sense. As a single person I contribute more to society and receive less."

How so? I mean, as a single person.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

John, I agree with you, but with one caveat- more happily married people will complain about being unhappy than unhappily single people will complain about single life.

That I suppose is part of the envy state we have been talking about when it comes to the married/single debate. Maybe we complain about our spouses to the single folks to prevent them from finding the spouse attractive?

amba said...


jimbino said...

The word you're looking for has to be something like "commitmentphobic." The most common criticism of my singlehood that I hear from envious marrieds is that I lack "commitment."

Marrieds who game the system win big-time in social security. A 20-year old who just wants a butler or a maid can marry one at 20, get a replacement at 30, again at 40, 50, 60. All of them, even if indolent, will be entitled to a free-ride on the social security earned by the gamer.

Mark Daniels said...

I don't know if I sense a hostility toward the unmarried. But there often is a shameful disdain.

Unmarried people often face the same disdain shown toward the long-married who have no children. People in both categories often seem to be seen as being less than full adults, sometimes as self-indulgent and immature.

Single and marrieds without children from among my parishioners and friends (and extended family) have reported running into this disdain and I've observed it up close.

Why do these attitudes exist?

Well, it can't entirely be explained by saying that married people (with children) are miserable and resent the "freedom" they see in the lives of singles and marrieds without children. I, for one, am happy in my nearly-thirty-three year old marriage and thoroughly enjoyed raising our two children.

Nor do I think that the disdain of singles is related to the suspicion of homosexuality. If anything, long-term singles are often seen by the people holding to the attitudes we're here describing as being asexual.

There is, I think, a more simple explanation. Some people feel that adults have to go through certain proscribed life-hoops in order to truly be considered an adult. They tend to believe this all the more if they have, in fact, gone through those hoops, no matter the quality of their marital or family relationships. They see themselves as part of an adults' club and looking down their noses on those who haven't gone through the hoop is one of the "privileges" of membership.

The phenomenon, disdain of singles and marrieds without children, is real. If you come up with a term, maybe you can copyright it.


Pogo said...

oysophobia: (fear of childlessness)

amba said...

"Agamophobia" has a drawback, if in fact it is one: as well as prejudice against the unmarried, it could mean fear of not getting or being married. I suppose they would be apt to coexist.

There were other Greek words for "unmarried," but I couldn't read them because they were ... Greek to me.

Ann Althouse said...

I don't like the "-phobia" ending, because it's not fear, it's hostility or aversion. I'd like to see an "-ism."

As for "maritalism," don't we need a noun for the root? We don't say "racialism."

Pogo said...

Misepithic: hatred or distrust of the unmarried

Misoysopic: hatred or distrust of childlessness

Pogo said...

Misosoupic: hatred of japanese broths

Misohornic: hatred of japanese brothels

Sorry indeed.

ricpic said...


Pogo said...

Derivation of Misepithic: μίσος ("hatred") plus επίθ ("unmarried")

Gahrie said...

The Shakers kind of had a longevity problem based on their failure to procreate, and any society that has that same failure will eventually disappear.

My one guilt about remaining single has been my failure to contribute demographically.

However I have a friend at work who is on his third wife, has nine children (20's to less than a year) and his current wife is pregnant again. I have begun negoiations with him to purchase breeder credits.

Kev said...

"My view toward singles depends on their age, but once they have gotten to a point where they should have had ample opportunity to find a partner--the attitude is generally negative"

So, dbp, exactly when is that "point"? I don't think it necessarily does--or should--depend on age; if anything, it's what stage in one's life that he or she is in that should matter.

Also...what John Stodder, Revenant and Mark Daniels said. Especially the idea from Mark about people looking down on others who haven't jumped through the same hoops that they have. When I was 25, if I'd jumped through the marriage hoop, I would've fallen and broken my face. At this point in my life, I believe I'll succeed when the time comes.

Revenant said...

Revenant, you may contibute more, but only financially

In every way except procreation. I require less, I consume less, and I produce more. And as for procreation, well, supply exceeds demand where kids are concerned... and taxation ensures that I get stuck with a hefty chunk of other peoples' child-rearing costs, too, so I'm contributing to child-rearing despite my childlessness.

I'd also note that slightly less than half of married couples actually have kids and stay married long enough to raise them, so giving married people credit for producing the next generation is probably giving them too much credit.

Wade Garrett said...

I certainly plan on getting married someday, but people like Sloanasaurus can kiss my ass. I love how they call us cultural leaches, or act as if anybody who isn't married at a certain age is some sort of cultural leech.

The crushing social conformity to get married and start breeding little aminals started when the World War II generation started getting married and having children. I forget where I read this, but the number of unmarried adults was something like 40% until World War 2, when it suddenly dropped to less than 10%, at which point the divorce rate skyrocted. What sort of society would you rather live in - one in which remaining single is a socially viable option, or one in which everybody feels pressure to get married, then gets divorced in a relatively short time after having one or more children?

Pogo said...

Re: "What sort of society would you rather live in -"

The remaining-single option has certainly captured the imagination across the EU in the last 3 decades. Now their population is declining so fast they may be gone entirely in 2 or 3 generations.

amba said...

Wedlocky (rhymes with Jabberwocky).


amba said...

Wedlockjaw (the grinding of teeth when confronted with an unmarried person).

amba said...

Coupulsion. (adj. coupulsory)

(Believe me, this is hurting me more than it hurts you.)

amba said...


amba said...





Pogo said...

Misaloney wins!!

peter hoh said...

Funniest thing I've seen on the marriage front recently is this song. As seen on Andrew Sullivan's blog.

Wade Garrett said...

I love that video, but the Flight of the Conchords has had a cult following for several years. They've got a new tv series on HBO, which is a sitcom broken up by impromptu music videos which advance the plot. Really, really funny stuff.

Emy L. Nosti said...

Misogamist, though not sure that's clearly pejorative. I no longer have JSTOR access, but maybe there's something in the reviews of "Single Blessedness: Observations on the Single Status in Married Society by Margaret Adams.

Seems like people are more interested in showing animosity to those "living in sin"/"shacking up" than singles...at least explicity. But I think that very well may be founded on (at least in modern times) the jealousy of singles' ability to have NSA/commitment-less sex and/or muliple partners and/or a life not tied down by children and other familial obligations. After all, everyone envies the footloose once in a while.

blake said...

In every way except procreation. I require less, I consume less, and I produce more.

How is that possible? Are you saying there's no economy of scale for a group of people living together? Or are you saying you consume less because you have no children?

If you take the latter position (which I think is nonsense) you then have to produce more than all the members of the family as well. You produce more than a family of six, you think?

Your contribution ends with you, too, unlike someone with children.

And as for procreation, well, supply exceeds demand where kids are concerned...

Another simplification. There are huge artificial barriers to adopting children, and people pay huge sums of money to do so (or to have their own).

Besides which, children are not a commodity. Whatever you might bring to your children is lost if you don't have them.

and taxation ensures that I get stuck with a hefty chunk of other peoples' child-rearing costs, too, so I'm contributing to child-rearing despite my childlessness.

Ha! Amateur. Try raising your children without the largely useless services "provided" by the government while paying for same.

Emy L. Nosti said...

Thanks for playing, Blake, but I'm almost sure he meant something more along these lines:
"In biology, the carrying capacity usually refers to the number of animals a given area can support with adequate food, shelter and territory or the space to reproduce," Kuper reported. Right now, Earth's carrying-capacity is thought to be somewhere in the range of four billion to five billion people. We sport 6.6 billion today and grow by 240,000 every 24 hours.
"The United States possesses resources to sustain less than half of its current population of 300 million, according to ecologist Paul Ehrlich, who first called attention to potential population problems in 1968 with his book, "The Population Bomb."
"Waite and other ecologists increasingly think of the idea of carrying-capacity in terms of an ecological "footprint," the amount of land on Earth that it takes to support a group of people."
Americans, who make up five percent of the world's population, use 25 percent of its resources and cast a large footprint.
"Ohio's footprint is like 11 times the state of Ohio," Waite said. "The average American's footprint is about 22 acres. By far, the largest component is energy. In contrast, the average citizen of India has a footprint one-sixteenth that size."

So, while India may be more crowded, each newborn Indian is far less of a burden on Earth's resources than an American baby is.

And does a single, gainfully-employed man, perhaps one who lives with others (to take advantage of economies of scale), have more favorable net consumption-production than 2 adults with 4 children? It depends how you define production, but in at least a few ways, yes. When it comes down to it, Americans who have children are not particularly responsible ecologically-speaking, because consumption will almost certainly exceed production (as evidenced by our national footprint, not to mention our trade deficit). And except for those who work while attending school, most kids are leeches for at least 18-22+ years. Never mind whoever stays home to raise those 4 children...

But then, Western civilization has never been bothered much by gluttony and by taking whatever we want at others' expense. Is it wrong that we do this (I don't claim to be on a moral highground, fyi)? Well, natural selection might say no, but it'd be nice to transcend our basest instincts on occasion.

TMink said...

My experience with the economy of scale is that it kicks in at about child number 3 or 4. There has been LOTS of economy under the bridge by that time I can tell you.

There is already a word for most single moms: poor. I was a half time single dad for a while, and that was really quite difficult. I loved the time with my daughter but it was difficult to get things done and my work and income certainly suffered.

If I am shackled in marriage, I am shackled to an angel, and if you only knew you would wish that you were in my shoes.

Seriously, it is my experience that some folks are temprementally equipped for marriage, some for parenthood, and some are not. Big deal. It is better for all of us to stick to what we are good at and be happy with ourselves and each other than so bitter and judgmental.

End of sermon.


Seven Years of College Down the Drain said...


blake said...


Sure, and by that logic, the greatest environmentalists of all time are Mao, Stalin, Hitler...eh, just go down the list. Rachel Carson should probably get credit for 30M dead, so she's maybe between Stalin and Hitler.

Mmmmmm. Malthus.

JackDRipper said...

AA - "As for "maritalism," don't we need a noun for the root? We don't say "racialism.""

Racialism is used, see the wiki reference.

Maritalism is a good one if you have a need for all this 'ism', 'ist', 'phobia' name calling.

I'm against the use of terms like racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia anyway. It's a way of short cutting arguments by using stigmatizing code words. Like McCarthyism. See there I go.

Emy L. Nosti said...

Mmmmm...Godwin. How many comments did it take for us to get there...4? Impressive. (Bonus for Stalin and Mao!!!)

In every way except procreation. I require less, I consume less, and I produce more.
Sorry, but when he's right, he's right. It's really not that complicated unless you're using a selfish standpoint so you can rationalize "the more children the better." Thanks, but even though it will be hard, the other 6,602,224,175+ of us will find some way to get by without your spawn; finite resources are a fact as is overpopulation as is the relative burden of 1st world/3rd world citizens.

Speaking of Darwinian principles, the Carson thing is ridiculous claptrap (not to mention you could make similar arguments by that "logic" about Jesus, as neither would intentionally harm anyone). Never mind that if you had actually read Silent Spring (I did last year) you'd see she never called for an outright ban, she just encouraged restraint and that we not assume every chemical is harmless. (Maybe her actions have saved you from cancer, who knows?)

Anywho, there's this little problem of resistance that happens when you kill off all but the resistant organisms (selection, though not natural)...the resistant organisms flourish because they no longer have to compete for the aforementioned finite resources (all comes full circle, doesn't it...). Same reason docs don't wantonly prescribe antibiotics.

Try reading this (parts 5, 2.4, 3, 2nd half of 2.1, 4.1.2 [DDT toxicity, if I recall from a class, is highly dependent on absorption method--it's relatively benign in dust form but easily lethal when soluted in oils], and 4.3 are all illuminating), or the World Health Organization's opinion, or something other than Coulter.

But whatever. If you live in a world where you can compare genocide (active) with not having children (passive) or with trying to save humans through saving the environment and reducing carcinogens, you're probably beyond hope.

Emy L. Nosti said...

And no, not that Godwin, this one.

Eli Blake said...


A word which suggests lack of a partner, and at the same time is just a letter different from 'selfish,' an underlying (though unspoken assumption) on the part of those who have this attitude as to what they think of the unmarried person.

Edward said...

anti-ipsisexualism seems to be what you're talking about here.

A person prefers living alone because sexuality is not the defining characteristic of his (her) character. Something matters more than sex and contact and progeny. That's the placing of something (as banal as money or as great as heroic love) above human pairing. Psychiatrically, this can be called "ipsisexuality."

A high percentage of adults don't like this, particularly, married women don't like this attitude and conduct.

If you don't like anti-ipsisexuality as a label, let's start all over again and use a differeent moniker. How about Diogenophobia? Or Sibylophobia? Some adults would prefer to wander alone in persuit of honesty and wisdom, either due to an essential anti-materialism (Diogenes seeking the honest man and being unimpressed with a visit from Alexander the Great) or out of an ambition to become clairvoyant, a Sybil-in-training.

This profound desire for wisdom or prophetic skill is deeply repugnant to those who are utterly devoted to one single other human being -- which is to say, married people don't like it if you follow Diogenes or Sibyl and live alone in an existance of intellectual or mental solitude.

Edward said...

Historically, animosity toward the unmarried is very closely related to anti-monasticism.

English monestaries and abbeys were looted and smashed during the Protestant Reformation. The antagonism toward living alone can lead to mob violence.

I like the power of the word anti-monasticism, but married people who are antagonistic toward single people do not know themselves well enough to face the superstitious nature of their own feelings, particularly the rage and fear beneath the animosity.