Unmarried" and "single" are not synonyms

Congratulations to Christina Wallace in today's Metro for contributing to gay and lesbian invisibility. In this article about "single women influencing the housing market," she discusses trends in single women buying homes, while using the terms "single" and "unmarried" interchangibly. [Click the image for a full-size view of the story].

While Kim Hay, the woman given as an example, is a self-identified single woman, it is offensive and ignorant to take a statistical sample and determine that all women who are not legally married are "single." This devalues committed-but-not-legally-married relationships, both of same-sex couples and other-sex couples.

The American Psychological Association's Style Guide (by which authors submitting papers to most of the major psychology and sociology journals must abide) gives the following guideline:

Omitting discussion of marital status unless legal marital relationships are the object of the writing. Marital status per se is not a good indicator of cohabitation (marital couples may be separated; unmarried couples may live together), sexual activity, or sexual orientation (a person who is married may be in a gay or lesbian relationship with a partner). Further, describing people as married or "single" renders lesbians, gay men, and bisexual persons as well as heterosexual people in cohabiting relationships invisible.

It isn't clear from the article whether the statistics as presented by the National Association of Realtors specified whether their numbers referred to self-identified single females or to females who are not legally married. It is clear that Christina Wallace (and/or whomever chose the statistics) seems to view these terms interchangibly. It seems logical that the "number of unmarried females owning homes" would be derived from mortgage and property ownership data. Obviously, these figures only take legal status into account; there is no way of determining whether these unmarried women owning homes are single or partnered. The assumption that all of these unmarried women are single is of course not at all realistic.

I am not legally married and am the sole legal owner of a home -- I don't like that I may have in fact been counted in the "single women owning a home" statistic, since, well, I'm not single.

Even if the National Association of Realtors did in fact organize actual data collection in which Realtors reported on the numbers of sales they made to single and married women, this data collection is still not sound, because it excludes the category of women who are in non-married committed partnerships. It also relies on the judgment of the Realtor to determine which clients s/he is going to count as "single" or "married." I doubt that the Realtor is going around asking clients their marital status; I do know that when I bought my house, I took care of most of the mortgage processing myself, so he didn't ever see a credit report or anything that would indicate my legal marital status. Therefore it would have been up to him to decide whether he thought I was "married" or "single" if given only those two choices in a survey.

Actually, now that I mention my Realtor, it's too bad he wasn't the Realtor interviewed, since he would have given equal treatment to the partnered couples and single people he's worked with instead of furthering the "people are single unless in a hetero marriage" slant of the story.

If the author wishes to discuss the trend of actual single women buying homes -- which I do find sociologically interesting -- she might want to stick to interviewing self-identified single women or taking a poll in which homebuyers can self-identify in terms of their relationship status. The legal marital status of people buying homes really isn't interesting; I doubt anyone is going around asking to see their neighbors' marriage certificates. The actual status of people buying homes is interesting, and is what really makes up a neighborhood. Kim Hay's personal story of her decision to buy a house is much more interesting than misleading statistics anyway, and isn't offensive like the overgeneralizing and invisibilizing is.


Jodie said...

I'd like there to be a check box for "none of your fucking business."

Jodie said...

Two things- there are a number of unmarried women who are in a relationship that would still continue to identify as single- buying a home in that respect in the sort of "I may never be proposed to, but I'm gonna have my own house to come home to" spirit.

I can see where this article would contribute to the invisibility of lesbians in a natioinal sense, since it's only in Massachusetts that their marraiges are recognized legally at this point, but this article was in a local paper. What makes lesbian couples that aren't married different than hetero women in a relationship that aren't married, in this sense? As a hetero, I personally hate the term "single" because I feel like there's a stigma attached ("ooh, you haven't found a husband yet! You're almost 30, you know!") But given it's an article in Massachusetts about the Massachusetts housing market, what makes it more invisiblizing for unmarried lesbians? Aside from the whole, why even make an issue of marital status anyway?

eeka said...

We still don't have equality until marriage is recognized worldwide; there are couples in MA who can't marry because they're in the military or are binational or are pursuing international adoption. They still deserve to have their relationship respected on an equal level to anyone else's.

Matt said...

And there are a lot of folks in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships who aren't married. But I think they and their significant others would be dismayed to think that not having signed a marriage license makes them single!

eeka said...

Exactly, Matt! "Not legally married" is at least an objective term; I'm not offended if someone calls me that, since it's accurate (though in most applications I would question what it has to do with anything). "Single" is something that should be left up to people to define for themselves. I liked hearing a perspective from a self-identified single woman. I don't like that their stats consider me to be single. It's insulting especially to the other person who bought the house with me and lives here and pays the mortgage and taxes with me despite my having bought it "singly" from a legal standpoint.