The Scientific Study of People Who Are Single:
An Annotated Bibliography

Bella M. DePaulo
Chair, Academic Advisory Board of the Spectrum Institute
Research and Policy Division of the
American Association for Single People (AASP)

January 2, 2004


4. Life Course Issues  

The Life Cycle and the Social Clock

Early models of adult development sometimes assumed that marriage is a requisite life task for full adulthood. Stage models posited a linear set of stages that people progressed through over the course of a lifetime. The concept of the social clock describes societal expectations for the time at which people are expected to marry, have children, and accomplish other life tasks. What are the implications of these expectations for the ways in which people who are single are viewed at different ages? For example, are people who have always been single viewed more negatively when they are middle-aged adults than when they are young adults? What are their actual experiences? That is, do older people who have always been single fare any differently in terms of health or well-being than people who are married or who once were married? (See also the section on Health and Happiness.)

Stage models, especially those that specify marriage as a necessary life task for adulthood, prejudge the lives of singles as deficient. More recently, scholars have questioned the adequacy of linear stage models, especially as age-based norms seem to have become less rigid. A few have attempted to address adult development issues as they pertain to people who are single. However, even these sometimes presuppose that singles must reconcile themselves to their single lives, rather than posing that possibility as a question that allows for positive construals of the single life course.


Baxter-Magolda, M. B. (1999). Constructing adult identities. Journal of College Student Development, 40, 629-644.

Carlson, J. (1974). Response. (To Kurth) Impact, 3, 5-9.

Carstensen, L. L. (1995). Evidence for a life-span theory of socioemotional selectivity. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 4, 151-156.

Caspi, A. (1987). Personality in the life course. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 1203-1213. (Discusses age-graded roles and transitions.)

Chudacoff, H. P. (1989). How old are you? Age consciousness in American culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Heckhausen, J. (1999). Developmental regulation in adulthood: Age-normative and sociostructural constraints as adaptive challenges. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Heckhausen, J., & Schulz, R. (1995). A life-span theory of control. Psychological Review, 102, 284-304.

Helson, R., Mitchell, V., & Moane, G. (1984). Personality and patterns of adherence and nonadherence to the social clock. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 1079-1096.

Keegan, R. (1982). The evolving self. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Krueger, J., Heckhausen, J., & Hundertmark, J. (1995). Perceiving middle-aged adults: Effects of stereotype-congruent and incongruent information. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 50B, 82-93.

Kurth, S. (1974). A process of identity transformation for the never married woman. Impact, 3, 3-9.

Lewis, K. G. (1994). Single heterosexual women through the life cycle. In M. P. Mirkin (Ed.), Women in Context: Toward a Feminist Reconstruction of Psychotherapy (pp. 170-187). NY: Guilford.

Neugarten, B. L. (1976). Adaptation and the life cycle. The Counseling Psychologist, 6, 16-20.

Neugarten, B. L. (1979). Time, age, and the life cycle. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 136, 887-894.

Neugarten, B. L., & Neugarten, D. A. (1987). The changing meanings of age. Psychology Today, May, 29-33.

Rook, K. S., Catalano, R., & Dooley, D. (1989). The timing of major life events: Effects of departing from the social clock. American Journal of Community Psychology, 17, 233-258.

Schwartzberg, N., Berliner, K., & Jacob, D. (1995). Single in a married world: A life cycle framework for working with the unmarried adult. NY: Norton.

Stewart, A. J., & Healy, J. M. Jr. (1989). Linking individual development and social change. American Psychologist, 44, 30-42.

Valliant, G. E. (1977). Adaptation to life. Boston, MA: Little, Brown.

Wrosch, C., & Heckhausen, J. (1999). Control processes before and after passing a developmental deadline: Activation and deactivation of intimate relationship goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 415-427.


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