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What do you call a woman who’s never married?

Quick Answers

There are a few common terms used to describe a woman who has never been married:

  • Single
  • Unmarried
  • Never married
  • Spinster (older term)

The most neutral and common terms are “single” or “never married.” “Unmarried” also works. “Spinster” is an old-fashioned term with some negative connotations.

Examining the Question

This question touches on some interesting cultural norms and assumptions around marriage and womanhood. Here are some key points:

  • There is often an expectation in many cultures that women will marry, especially as they get older.
  • Not being married, especially at an older age, has traditionally been seen as unusual or negative for women.
  • There is a lack of common terms for unmarried men or gender-neutral terms for unmarried adults.
  • The terms used to describe unmarried women have sometimes carried negative connotations or judgments.

So the need for specific terms to describe unmarried women reveals historical biases. It assumes marriage is the norm and proper goal for womanhood. But attitudes are shifting. Today, more people accept and celebrate women (and men) finding fulfillment through diverse lifestyles and paths.

Historical Context

Let’s explore the historical context behind terms for unmarried women.


“Spinster” dates back to the 1300s. It literally refers to an unmarried woman whose occupation was spinning wool and flax. Over time, “spinster” evolved into a term for any unmarried woman. By the 1800s, it carried a strong stigma and implication of failure or inadequacy for not marrying.

Old Maid

“Old maid” emerged in the 1700s. It emphasized both unmarried status and age, suggesting a woman “left on the shelf” after failing to marry when younger. An old maid was seen as lonely, prudish, and pathetic.


“Singleton” arose in the early 1900s, popularized by novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart. It provided a more positive way to describe an unmarried, independent woman living a fulfilling life on her own terms.


“Bachelorette” came from “bachelor” and gained traction in the 1930s. It acknowledged the rising numbers of young, single working women in cities pursuing careers and social lives.

Statistics on Marriage Rates

Marriage rates and attitudes have changed dramatically over the past century:

Year Percentage of U.S. women aged 30-34 never married
1900 6%
1950 10%
2000 35%

As this table shows, the percentage of never-married women aged 30-34 jumped from just 6% in 1900 to 35% in 2000. This reflects major social shifts, including more women in the workforce, changing gender roles, rising education levels, and greater social acceptance of single lifestyles.

Modern Perspectives and Terminology

Today’s culture is much more inclusive and respectful regarding diverse partnership paths and family structures. Here are some modern perspectives:

  • Marriage is seen as one valid option, not a requirement or predetermined life stage.
  • Women have more freedom in choosing if, when, and who to marry based on their needs and desires.
  • “Spinster” and “old maid” are now seen as outdated and offensive terms.
  • More value is placed on self-fulfillment and personal journey rather than marital status.

Preferred modern terminology includes:

  • Single
  • Unmarried
  • Never married
  • Unpartnered
  • Solo living

These terms focus on a woman’s current relationship status rather than imposing judgment or assumptions.

The Bottom Line

Language and attitudes surrounding marriage and womanhood have thankfully evolved. There’s greater respect today for the diversity of women’s lifestyles and paths to happiness. The emphasis is on a woman’s freedom to choose her own journey, whether that includes marriage or not.