Bachelors over 40 not apt to marry, study reveals

August 28, 1991|By New York Times News Service f

A psychologist who studies the hearts and minds of confirmed bachelors over the age of 40 has advice for women who want to marry one of them: Forget it.

"If you get involved with a never-married middle-age man, don't expect him to change," said Dr. Charles A. Waehler, a psychologist at the University of Akron in Ohio who studied a group of white, heterosexual bachelors 40 to 50 years old.

Dr. Waehler, who presented his findings at a recent meeting of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco, found that these men are not woman-haters, are not fixated on a parent and are not workaholics or wild playboys.

But as a group, he said, they relate to people in ways that end up isolating them.

Dr. Waehler said that all people have styles of behavior to help them cope with the anxieties that relationships can produce.

But, he said, the bachelors exhibit three defense mechanisms -- avoidance, isolation and distortion -- that keep other people at arm's length.

By staying single, the bachelors prevent these defense mechanisms from being challenged, he said.

Many never-married men are deeply satisfied with their lives as they practice these defenses, Dr. Waehler said. But others are miserable and would like to change but do not know how.

Comparable research on never-married women over 40 shows a much different picture, said Dr. Janice Witzel, a psychologist in private practice who is also a consultant at the Family Institute in Chicago.

Such women are often extremely happy, she said, and have far richer emotional lives -- without marriage -- than do their male counterparts.

Very little is known about never-married men and women, said Dr. Timothy Brubaker, editor of Family Relations journal and director of the Family and Child Study Center at Miami University Oxford, Ohio.

It is important to study them because their perspectives on life are different from those of people who get married, divorced or widowed, he said.

Single adulthood is usually considered a transient state and has received scant attention from psychologists, Dr. Waehler said.

But adults who do not marry are an expanding segment of the population. In 1980, he said, only 6 percent of adults over 35 years old had never married. In 1988, 8.7 percent of people of that age were single.

hTC The trend may reflect increasing job and educational opportunities forwomen and changing social attitudes about the need for marriage, the psychologist said.

Psychologists have long held that men tend to marry "down," choosing women who are less educated and socially privileged than they are, while women choose men who are higher on the socioeconomic ladder.

In this scheme, Dr. Waehler said, unmarried men are the bottom of the barrel while unmarried women are the cream of the crop.

But it is far more complicated. Although alcoholism, poverty, extreme passivity and mental illness are stereotypes that describe some bachelors, Dr. Waehler said, there are more complex reasons that many men do not get married.

These include factors such as innate personality traits and behavior learned from family members.

He chose white men in an effort to minimize cultural differences. It will be seen whether the findings hold up in further studies using a wider cross section of people, he said.

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