Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Suzanne B. Kurth

Committee Members

Robert G. Perrin, Thomas Hood, Jo Lynn Cunningham


The symbolic interactionist perspective provided the general theoretical basis for this exploratory study of the selves, careers, and relationships of never married women. The life careers of adults who are not married were investigated in order to fill a gap in the literature on adult life and to explore the utility of the symbolic interactionist conceptualization of career.

In-depth interviews were conducted with 30 never married women between the ages of 30-40. They were selected through a process of snowball sampling. A semi-structured interview guide was developed for the study.

Individuals have multiple careers with various dimensions (e.g., occupational, familial). In addition, symbolic interactionists have utilized the concept of personal or moral career to refer to the various shifts which occur in a person's conceptions of self and others over time. They eschew developmental models which propose that individuals must pass through a specific set of stages in a particular sequence.

The respondents' careers varied in terms of entry (recruitment). A few women reported that they had selected their single status. However, most respondents cited situational factors to explain their present marital status and did not perceive their careers as irreversible, although they varied widely in the degree of reversibility they perceived.

The respondents generally indicated positive self perceptions but they were aware that others, particularly those not close to them might assign negative social identities to them (e.g., old maid). In some instances the women assigned negative identities to other singles, e.g., participants in activities planned for singles.

Around age 30 many of the women experienced changes in perception or engaged in different types of activities which suggested that they experiences identity transformations, i.e., identity turning points. Thus, some reported changed perceptions of the likelihood of marriage, while others decided to pursue advanced degrees. The majority of respondents had developed various "stories" or accounts to provide others who questioned them about their single status.

Marriage is often conceptualized as a crucial interpersonal relationship establishing and structuring other adult relationships in American society. Singles reported that they had relationships with others of varying ages and marital statuses; however, the activities they engaged in with married associates differed from those engaged in with single friends. The respondents also indicated a relatively high degree of contact with surviving parents. The singles' various relationships with friend and members of their families of orientation were conceptualized as forming "social support networks" for the singles. There were different expectations associated with the various others in their networks.

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