Singleness in Britain, 1960-1990: Identity, Gender and Social Change

by Emily Priscott

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This significant and highly readable book tells the story of Britain from 1960-1990 through the often overlooked perspective of singleness. It demonstrates the nuances and complexities of that category through an extensive, and engaging, reading of the press, cultural and sociological sources. It is authoritative, well structured and has a clear interpretative arc, offering new understandings of home and parenthood in this period along the way. Importantly the book pays equal attention to the status of men and women showing the interplay between bachelordom and spinsterhood at a time when both categories were undergoing fundamental shifts. The author has a first rate grasp of the research context and deploys the primary source base with real skill. The book should appeal to both scholarly and wider audiences, providing a much needed exploration of an important topic.

Claire Langhamer
Professor of Modern British History
HAHP Director of Research
University of Sussex

This book contributes to an emerging field of research, looking at the significance of marital status to debates about identity and gender. It examines representations and experiences of single men and women between 1960 and 1990, using a wide variety of sources, including digitized British newspapers, social research, films, and lifestyle literature.

Whilst much-existing work focuses on the early-to-mid 20th centuries (such as Katherine Holden’s ground-breaking work, The Shadow of Marriage: Singleness in England, 1914-1960), this book alternatively examines the impact of the 1960s and the aftermath of changing attitudes to singleness. While Holden and others, such as Virginia Nicholson in Singled Out, focus largely on social status and lived experience (often through oral testimony), the author is just as interested in finding new ways of looking at gender and sexuality. This work starts from the premise that a distinct double standard existed in attitudes towards single men and women, which continued even after the wave of legislation to improve women’s status during the 1960s. Examining these often vastly different expectations reveals a complex web of progress, continuity, and contradictions, highlighting the uneven pace of social change and its frequent compromises and limitations.

Using theoretical approaches such as feminism and queer theory, this work explores the impact of changing gender norms on issues including single fatherhood, old maid stereotypes, and experiences of homelessness. It can be used as a study aid for 20th-century British history and gender studies courses, and might also interest both established academics and intellectually curious non-academic readers. The author has made efforts, where possible, to clearly explain her theoretical approaches and interventions for those who might be unfamiliar with them.


Chapter 1 The evolution of the single stereotype
Part one
Part two

Chapter 2 A house is not a home: singleness and the domestic sphere
Part One
Single Women and the Home
Part two
Single men and the home
Part three
Out in the cold: single homelessness

Chapter 3 The dream has gone but the baby is real - gender and single parenthood
Part One
Lone motherhood and female identity
Part two
Lone fatherhood and masculinity




Emily Priscott is a writer and social historian, and recently completed her doctorate in contemporary history at the University of Sussex. Her interests include gender, popular culture, and 20th-century British history, particularly what attitudes and ideas reveal about an era’s social climate. Her research frequently uses gender as a method of measuring social progress and highlighting the tension between lived experience and social expectation.

British history, 20th century history, feminism, queer theory, gender, masculinity, popular culture, contemporary history, sociology, domesticity, architectural theory, digitized newspapers, qualitative sources

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Bibliographic Information

Book Title

Singleness in Britain, 1960-1990: Identity, Gender and Social Change





Number of pages


Physical size

236mm x 160mm

Publication date

October 2020