Researchers have proposed various explanations for the increase in singlehood in post-industrialized countries, but the questions of how singles interpret their singlehood and what social meanings they attribute to it have received less attention. Using data collected through in-depth interviews with singles from various backgrounds in Israel, this study examined whether singlehood was considered the result of individual choice or constraints. Findings revealed that most participants expressed a strong wish to marry and viewed their singlehood as the result of unfavourable life circumstances, a pattern we call ‘normative singlehood’. Their narratives were aligned with the mainstream norm that does not consider singlehood to be a legitimate way of life. By contrast, a minority, all women from very traditional backgrounds, treated singlehood in terms of deliberate choice and considered it a desired alternative to a conjugal relationship, a pattern we referred to as ‘challenging singlehood.’ These women expressed strong educational and occupational goals at the price of distancing themselves from their communities of origin. Overall, the study points to the limitations of the discourse of choice at the intersection of individualism and familism and suggests that the hegemonic status of marriage persists despite normative change in favour of deinstitutionalization.
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