Whether a woman is unmarried by choice or circumstance, she may be victim social or professional discrimination. Some single women face paradoxical stereotypes: the power-hungry professional only interested in personal gain and manipulation of other men and women, and the unattractive, superfluous spinster who eventually becomes embittered in her loneliness. Both images suggest unmarried women's lack of femininity, humanity and "normal" sexuality; and consequentially support the belief that a woman's life is at best, meaningless, and at worst, destructive without a husband.
The term "spinster", derived from "a woman who spins", refers to the custom in which women were expected to spin woollen yarn in order to become attractive as housewives. Thus, a woman considered a spinster was a woman unable to find a husband, and consequently, a woman who would spend the rest of her single life spinning woollen yarn.
In some rural African societies, it is considered a dismal misfortune when a woman does not marry and have children.
A 1993 UK report suggests that as women grow older, their chances for marrying decrease, despite the fact there are more single men (divorced, widowed or never married) than single women (of all ages, except those in their late forties). The report found that men, particularly those previously married, tended to look for partners at least 10 year younger than themselves. A 1991 census cited there were 390,000 unattached women aged 40-44 to every 228,000 men aged 45-49 in the UK.