The Many Ways Single People Are Treated Unfairly at Work

Bella DePaulo
13 min readAug 27, 2020

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?”

#2 “Sometimes, it’s not the boss who’s asking more of the single employee. A coworker who, for example, wants to leave early to take their kid to the doctor, or even to the soccer game, is more likely to ask a single coworker to pick up the slack. That co-worker might argue that our organization always talks about being family friendly and that we’re a team, so we should all pitch in in the same way that if a coworker gets a serious disease and can’t be terminated because of the Americans with Disabilities act, people have to pitch in. We in this area talk all the time about community, the collective. Shouldn’t it be from those with the most to those with the least?” [Bella’s note: It is not…

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Bella DePaulo

“America’s foremost thinker and writer on the single experience,” according to the Atlantic. SINGLE AT HEART book coming on Dec 5, 2023. www.belladepaulo.com