Do Single People Have As Much Connection To Their Communities?

Is Our Culture Shifting Away from Marriage and Families?

I’ll admit it. I’m a big David Brooks fan.

Brooks is a moderately conservative op-ed columnist for the New York Times and I’m an unabashed liberal.

Regardless of his politics, Brooks is sort of a social philosopher. He uses statistics to help cultivate his worldview and tends to make very pithy observations. Last week’s piece, called “The Age of Possibility” is a perfect example.

Much has been written – here and elsewhere – about the changing face of a “typical” U.S. household. More people are single. Fewer are having kids. This has taken place at a more rapid rate in various Asian and Scandinavian societies as well. While it’s generally hard to decry the results of unlimited freedom and education, sometimes there’s too much of a good thing.

It’s not whether single people CAN be as connected to their communities, it’s whether they ARE as connected to their communities as people with marriage and children.

“Like most Asian societies, Singapore used to be incredibly family-centered. But, as the economy boomed, the marriage rate plummeted. Singapore now has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. “The focus in Singapore is not to enjoy life, but to keep score: in school, in jobs, in income,” one 30-year-old Singaporean demographer told the researchers. “Many see getting attached as an impediment to this.”

Says Brooks, “The surest way people bind themselves is through the family. As a practical matter, the traditional family is an effective way to induce people to care about others, become active in their communities and devote themselves to the long-term future of their nation and their kind.”

I happen to agree with him. I’m much more likely to be active in my community as a homeowner, parent of a school-aged child, and member of a local temple. Before you overreact and tell me that YOU’RE a single mom and YOU belong to church, I’m not suggesting it’s impossible to do so.

I am saying that by planting roots in a community – by owning a home, sending your kids to school, and building a sense of permanence with your family – you’re much more likely to feel connected to your community than if you were, say, like I would be without my wife.

If I were single today, I wouldn’t be living in a suburb, wouldn’t worry about schools, wouldn’t meet my neighbors, wouldn’t belong to a temple. What would I be doing? Dating, buying nicer things, and traveling more. It’s fun stuff, but such solo pursuits do little to enrich a community.

Understand, I’m not condemning single people, because I was long single. I’m reiterating Brooks’ observation that it’s not whether single people CAN be as connected to their communities, it’s whether they ARE as connected to their communities as people with marriage and children.

Brooks concludes the same thing that I would, “The problem is not necessarily a changing family structure. It’s people who go through adulthood perpetually trying to keep their options open.”

Please read the article here, and share your thoughts below.

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Comments:

  1. 31
    Christina

    While I love David Brooks (I’m an all-around moderate) I’m getting a bit tired of what seems to be a constant singles-vs-married battle. Even with all of the possible lifestyle differences, we’re still all human beings who crave happiness and connection. 

    The reality of post-industrial society seems to be increasing numbers of people who are single by choice. That’s what it is. You can’t force people to marry and have kids (unless you lived in Ceaucescu’s Romanis), and to a lot of people, there are some compelling benefits to being single. (I’ll let Bella DePaulo enumerate).

    In my case, I had a lot more time and energy for community involvement when I was single. My first marriage was incredibly draining, and all of my time and energy went to work and a bi-polar husband. Having children probably would have sent me off the deep end, not to more PTA meetings.

    After being widowed, I had a lot more time on my hands, and a lot more desire for connection. I served on the boards of two local arts organizations and did a lot of volunteer work for my church. To be honest, the vast majority of my fellow volunteers were single and/or retired. We were always trying to reel in the married-with-kids crowd but they were too busy, which seemed entirely reasonable to me. 

    I guess drawing lines in the sand and setting up polarized situations is good for readership, but I question how good it is for society. We would be better served by realizing that everyone -no matter their marital state- has something valuable to contribute, and encourage contribution, rather than being mad that the “other side” isn’t doing enough.

    If there’s a problem with community in this country, I believe it has far more to do with individualism and inability to delay gratification (definitely agree with Brooks on this), than it does with marital/child status. 

  2. 32
    sandra

    @c 32
    You dare to explain these perks as an investment opportunity? You are joking? Or are you a former mortgage lender, ex- Enron /Bain executive, or maybe you have a bridge for sale? Building better roads and public transportation is an investment in our future.
    How about this: Let’s invest in better schools better teacher ratios and physical education -to start. Let’s teach our children how to relate to each  other (one on one and in groups); how to handle money personally and how to unite to pass the laws and directives that support our goals (hopefully more humanitarian than the current narcissistic models.)And then, after “investing in these children, let’s hold them accountable to our broadened curriculum by requiring them to invest back into the communities and society that enabled their success. Let me not continue….And to clarify my intention about my ending comments in post #27- I spoke in jest, (but the truth..)

    PS
    If I ruled the world I would ask for accountability. And if my return on investment would that future generations reap the rewards of a society needing less to incarcerate (and all that entails in financial and human waste,) in a more rational, functional and kind society, I would consider that a proper return of investment.

     
    Note: This is a very well spoken and intelligent forum – Thanks, Evan!

  3. 33
    Jen

    Why is it a problem to Brooks that some people want to keep their options open?  Why does he feel entitled to advocate using the coercive power of the state to ‘induce’ them to create families when they themselves don’t see that as being in their best interest?  What is so threatening to him about those who make personal choices different than his own?  Or did he not make his choice on a selfish basis, and rather as a sacrifice to the ‘society’.  How flattering and inspiring to his wife and kids.  And the ‘community’. 
    Regardless of whether a family would bring happiness to an individual it is up to that individual to make that choice when he sees that as being true.  It is not up to ‘society’ to force such a commitment on him or guilt him into it with altruistic rhetoric about god, family, country.
    Community is nothing but a collection of individuals.  And i don’t think it is any more correct to try to dictate to people that certain ‘selfless’ ways of interaction with others is morally superior to other forms of interaction and a sense of community, than it is to say that marriage and children as a lifestyle is superior to being single.  There are thousands of ways to better one’s own life and others. 
    I think that many people mindlessly get married and have kids under societal conformity. That is bad for themselves and others. That this is changing should be celebrated, not decried. Parents, as well as singles and childless couples should do what will make them happy as individuals.  Then they should interact with others and form communities as suits them.  Let’s skip the social engineering and moralizing!

  4. 34
    Essie

    Helen @29
    Often, “being more connected to your community as a married person with children” implies that it’s a somehow better than being single and keeping your options open.  I pay my share of taxes that I’m sure goes to public education, without reaping any of the benefits. I have a community of like minded single/ childfree individuals who own businesses that are part of the community. Most people have jobs that contribute to their communities.  Yes, I’d love to get married and have children. I would then participate in the community in different ways. 
    Sarah@30
    you are right; many in religious communities help others because they are kind, compassionate people.  Apologies for the blanket statement. But I still think there is some underlying motive to convert.

  5. 35
    Karl R

    David Brooks said: (original post)
    “The surest way people bind themselves is through the family. As a practical matter, the traditional family is an effective way to induce people to care about others, become active in their communities and devote themselves to the long-term future of their nation and their kind.”

    I was rereading a section of For Better last night. I ran across a study that directly contradicted Brooks assertions. Singles were more likely to be involved in political groups. They were more likely to be involved in groups that involved their interests. They spent more time time interacting with their neighbors. They called their parents more often.

    “Connection” is a very subjective term. But when it comes to tangible, measurable criteria, the singles the singles were more connected to their communities than the married couples … especially the married couples with kids.

    If I had to guess, I’d say it’s due to the singles having more available time.

  6. 36
    Paula

    I’m not sure what post exactly but I definitely agree that parents are too focused on their children to be able to be properly involved with their community. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that as someone was challenging this assertion. As someone who is single, I have had the time to be involved with my community. I’m involved with various charity/volunteer work, am in a book group and many other outward focused activities. I think a good parent should be involved with their children and the ‘evolved’ ones are the ones that take them on volunteer activities and help expose their children to those in need such as going to a soup kitchen or feeding the homeless. The danger parents face is that they just focus on shuttling their children from hobbies like dance or hockey or whatever. They just teach the kid to be selfish and focus on themselves. It’s really up to the parent to teach their children community involvement and there are many ways to do this. The sad truth is most parents don’t and this is where I agree with one of the posters who believe parents are inward focus. If a parent can awaken in their child the idea that there are people in need and that we can do small acts to make the better place, then that is how parents can be involved with the community. Otherwise they are not. having kids alone doesn’t make you engaged with your community. I’m already engaged in my community and I do think singles do more simply because we probably have more free time.

  7. 37
    Amelia

    I’ll hazard a guess and say that since you’re a matchmaker you’re trying to drum up business with this particular piece.  You’re alluding to the ridiculous idea that as a married person you will care more about your community than if you were single.  It’s the kind of elitist attitude from SOME married people that think this way that I find it off putting. 
    Married people are not superior to singles.  And while there are some married folks that are civic minded, there are also a whole lot of them that due to family obligations don’t have time to do anything outside of the home. You are undermining and diminishing the good work that MANY single people get involved in, myself included. If as a single man, you did not get involved in many things that was your personal experience.  It’s ignorant to generalize the entire single population as a group that does the same things as you.  We’re not all like that.

  8. 38
    Amelia2.0

    Aww.  Should have anticipated there being another Amelia ’round these parts.  I’ll be Amelia2.0 from now on. LOL
    I get where caring people are more likely to participate in community stuff as a couple, and care less about selfish endeavours, especially with kids that are school age. 
    However, I emphasize the word caring.  I think couples participate more if they were already fundamentally caring people in the first place.  Although I realize this is not exactly what is being said in this blog post, I do have to strongly agree with the folks here who have said that singledom does not correlate well with the likelihood of caring jack for the community. I’m also as godless as they come, yet I still make the time, energy, and money to donate time/blood/money to the Red Cross or help out at an animal shelter as a single.  Even while dating I make the time.  I also know that my measly contributions pale in comparison to some of the work my friends and acquaintences in school got involved in as singles.  I think there is something to be said for the amount of time and energy singlehood affords for deeper community involvement.  But again, that involvement depends more on how much fundamentally a person gives a crap about others in the first place.

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