The Many Ways Single People Are Treated Unfairly at Work by Bella DePaulo
(Link): The Many Ways Single People Are Treated Unfairly at Work by Bella DePaulo
Is it okay to ask singles to cover for their married coworkers? What about paying singles less? In a pandemic, should singles be allowed to opt out even if they are not in a risk category?
I’ve been studying singlism for a long time. Sometimes I think I’ve heard all the stereotypes, all the unfair expectations, and all the examples of discrimination against single people, and nothing will surprise me. But then I get surprised all over again.
That happened when someone emailed me, a few months before the pandemic, to see whether I would answer some questions about singles in the workplace.
I’m not going to name him, but he is someone who has written a lot and whose thinking is taken seriously.
When I first read his questions, I thought he wasn’t serious. Maybe he was just trying to get a rise out of me. But no, he was serious.
First, I’ll list three of the questions I was asked, so you can take a look for yourself and see what you think.
Then I’ll share my answers.
I’m also adding one more question, not from the person who asked me the first three, about what is expected of single workers during the pandemic.
How Would You Answer These Questions?
#1 “A boss tells an employee, “You’re single. You don’t have to race home for your spouse or kids. Someone’s got to get this work done tonight, so it seems fair I ask you to stay late.” That boss might also use that rationale to have you travel on weekends, show up on holidays, even accept a transfer to some far-flung place. But isn’t that fair?”
What’s interesting about that question is that today, in the 21st century, people will ask it totally unselfconsciously and unapologetically.
That includes the most progressive and open-minded people, people in the intellectual vanguard, who would never in a million years see themselves as being unfair to other people.
Many people still don’t understand unfairness to single people — what I call (Link): singlism — so it is easier to explain by thinking about it in terms of prejudices we do understand.
Imagine if you had instead substituted “gay” for single. Which bosses would ever say — “hey, you’re gay. You don’t have anyone. Why don’t you come in tonight so my nice, hetero employees can go home. You’re gay — you couldn’t possibly have anything worthwhile to do with your time. And why don’t you also cover the holidays and the travel on the weekends, because how could you possibly have holiday plans or weekend plans? And how could you, gay person, possibly have a community or roots in this community? If I need to transfer someone, it is going to be you, and not my heterosexual employees, who I value so much more.”
Just about every employer would know better than to say anything like that, and I hope that most would not think that way, either.
But when you say “single” instead of gay, suddenly it is okay. We are not tuned into singlism the way we are tuned in to heterosexism or sexism or racism. But the issues are the same.
As a single person, I have people in my life who matter to me. I have a life. My evenings, my weekends, my holidays matter to me. I have now lived in Santa Barbara for 20 years. I have settled here.
For a boss to say that my time, my life, my attachment to my community are all less valuable than a married person’s — well, that’s shameful. I think it should also be illegal.
You also asked whether it is fair to ask single people to cover for married people in the workplace in all the ways you described.
My answer? Not even close to fair.
Your question seems to assume the worst stereotypes about single people — that if they don’t have a spouse or kids, that means they don’t have anyone. But single people DO have people in their lives who matter to them. Your question also seems to be based on the stereotype that single people simply don’t have a life.
That they have nothing to race home to. Or that nothing they are doing could possibly be more important than running home to have dinner with a spouse.
Or that my time, and what I want to do with it, doesn’t matter. It assumes that single people never have holiday plans. By saying, “hey, why not transfer the single person,” you are erasing all of the ties and the roots that single people establish in the places where they live, and telling them that none of that matters if they don’t have a spouse.
Well, it does matter.
[Under his question about if single people should receive less pay from an employer, she responds in part…]
…I [a single adult] live alone but suppose I had lived for decades with a close platonic friend, and we were interdependent in every way that married couples are except for the sex. Married people get special benefits my friend and I do not get, and the only difference is that they are supposedly having sex. I don’t think people should get special federal benefits for supposedly having sex.
About your argument that being a good feminist means paying mothers more than single people who are not mothers — wow, I have to admit, it really annoyed me. My first reaction was to say that my definition of feminism does not include discriminating against single people.
But in fact, there have been issues around this matter. The esteemed law professor, Rachel Moran, wrote an important paper called “How second-wave feminism forgot the single woman” (discussed (Link): here).
And second-wave feminism did care more about married women and mothers than about single women who were not mothers.
But that was a mistake, it was not something that bosses should use to justify paying mothers more than women who are not mothers.
You can read that entire article (Link): here
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(Link): Society Has It Wrong: Married People Shouldn’t Get Benefits That Single People do Not by V. Larson
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(Link): Cha-Ching: Our World of Failed Relationships Gives Birth to the ‘Divorce Registry’ by Alex Parker
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